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Brandon artist creates random acts of art committed frequently

Conn Gawthropp has been making art since she was 2 years old and hasn't slowed down since.

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Conn Gawthrop is always adding to her mural at the Alexandria Senior Center. She says it is a never-ending tapestry that depicts Douglas County how it was before.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press
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ALEXANDRIA — Some may recognize Connie Gawthrop of Brandon for her 20 years working at Elden's deli but those who know her recognize her as an artist.

Her first experience with art began at the age of 2 with a pencil. Today, at the age of 67, she works with any medium she can get her hand on.

"Every year I challenged myself to try something new," she said.

She has paintings, works of melted crayons, drawings, sculptures of clay, gnome sculptures of copper, imitation leaves of copper, and jewelry from copper. She really likes copper. So much so that the rims of her glasses are copper in color. Most of her fingers don copper rings made by hers truly. Even her hair is dyed to a copper tint. They call her the "Copper Nut." — a name that was meant as a joke due to her being "nuts" about copper but she liked it so much she kept it.

In general, though, she is an art nut. She said something hit her at a young age that made her realize she just simply loves to create. She jokes that at times when she has dropped her pallet of paint, she has wanted to preserve the beautiful mess as another one of her works.

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Her business card reads, "Random acts of art committed frequently."

Gawthrop says she is always doing something, always making something. She described her home studio as "dangerous" because her creations take up so much space they're at risk of toppling over.

She assumes her desire to create comes from how she grew up.

"I grew up fairly poor. I didn't know it but we didn't have anything," she said. "If my brother and I wanted something, like, skateboards, mom and dad said, 'No, we just don't have the money.' Okay, cool. I had a pair of roller skates. So, we took the wheels off, attached them to a couple of pieces of wood and we had skateboards.... we built tree houses...we were constantly creating."

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Gawthrop says when she paints, she hardly ever uses brush strokes. She dabs the brush up and down.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

Gawthrop has had work commissioned across the county. She was once hired to paint the walls of the liquor store in Brandon with each wall representing a different season. She painted the bathrooms of the old Brandon Cafe when it was still around. She also has some Adirondack chairs she painted at Lake Carlos Marina.

All of her work depicts nature in one way or another.

"I don't do portraits because I don't enjoy it. I can do buildings and stuff but I don't like it. It's too restrictive. Everything has to be at the right angle, the right straightness. Nature doesn't work that way and I can do nature without trying," she said.

Her most recent work is a mural depicting the little pieces of the natural landscape around Douglas County into one big scene.

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The mural can be seen on the north end of the Alexandria Senior Center in the hallway leading to the art studio where she volunteers her time as an art teacher.

It features 20 hidden animals and sites she has either personally seen or has been described to her in detail.

"I don't paint from a picture, I paint from up here," she said, pointing at her forehead. "A majority of people have a backdoor to their imagination. It goes just so far and that's it. Apparently, according to my mom, I blew my backdoor off when it was really little."

So far she has put 80 hours into the mural and plans to never stop adding. She says it is a never-ending tapestry.

People can spend a good deal of time looking at her mural and finding something new every time. Whether it is her homage to Dr. Suess, the "fox on the rock," or the initials A.C. she put into the murals tree for Anne Clayton, who ran the Senior Center's studio before her. In the Brandon Cafe bathroom, she featured a little girl missing a shoe, only to have the shoe painted as floating in the water on an adjacent wall.

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Gawthrop steps back to look at her mural at the Alexandria Senior Center, thinking about what to add next.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

Gawthrop takes a great deal of pride and time into her work. To understand the metal she works with, she has frequented blacksmith and welding shops and hardware stores. If she has questions on what metals work better for what, or which ones melt at a certain degree, she studies them. She scours the internet. Then she teaches.

"I don't suffer fools. If you claim you do. Prove you do. If you say 'I'm scared of that.' I say, 'OK, that's good. You should be,' she said, referring to the safety she practices when teaching her metal works that involve various torches.

Outside of the senior center where she spends every Thursday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. hosting open studio time, she also teaches one-on-one classes. Sometimes she will come to you on request. She takes on commissioned work if asked. Anything to keep her busy creating, even though she doesn't need an excuse.

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"(Art) gets me revved up. It gets me excited," she said."I get revved by teaching somebody something and they go, 'Wow, look what I did!' And then they honk the horn and I go, 'Yeah!' It gets me revved. It gets me going."

The horn she refers to is a bike horn that hangs in the studio at the senior center. She honks it anytime someone says they feel like they have accomplished something. She truly enjoys spreading her love of art.

Her favorite part about art is how it connects us not just with each other, but with ourselves.

Related Topics: DOUGLAS COUNTYALEXANDRIAART
Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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