Pottery for sale in Sue Pariseau’s studio southeast of Lanesboro. Sue organizes the annual Bluff Country Studio Art Tour in April. (Photo by Renee Bergstrom)
The artist behind the Bluff Country Studio Art Tour
SOUTHEAST MINNESOTA — In 2015, Sue Pariseau was entrusted to carry on organizing the Bluff Country Studio Art Tour (BCSAT) by its original organizer, Bernadette Mahfood of Winona, following Bernadette’s death. In addition to operating her own pottery studio in rural Fillmore County, Sue has been honoring that legacy ever since.
This annual art tour is scheduled the last full weekend in April, Friday to Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It encompasses Winona, Fillmore, and Houston counties. Artists from outside these counties are welcome to exhibit if hosted within the area.
Artists are encouraged to exhibit from their workspaces or individual studios to allow attendees to see the creation process. In addition to these private workspaces, artworks can also be found in two hosted sites: the Lanesboro Community Center and Mississippi Mornings Art Studio in Winona.
“The studio tour experience is very different than visiting a gallery or an art festival,” Pariseau says. “Studio visitors are able to connect more deeply with the art when they meet the artist, see where they find inspiration and get a behind-the-scenes peek into the creative process.”
The tour event may seem to magically appear on the calendar each year. However, much planning occurs throughout the year.
Pariseau’s career as a project manager prepared her to skillfully take on each step in the process. It begins at the end of April with gathering statistics and comments from the current year’s tour. Her committee — Mariella TerBeest-Schladweiler and Joni Finnegan — reviews feedback, makes suggestions for improvement and discusses promotion. They seek out sponsorships in two categories: food and lodging, and friends of the tour—mostly generous businesses.
Joni Finnegan praises Pariseau’s leadership. “As a long-time participant, artist, and board member in the BCSAT tour, I’ve witnessed numerous changes under Sue’s leadership. The improvements in organization, efficiency, communication, and professionalism of the tour have been profound,” says Finnegan.
In September, Pariseau applies for a Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council (SEMAC) grant using statistics and feedback from the most recent tour. She creatively wordsmiths the application so it features any improvements or changes made from previous tour presentations. She can’t spend any money until the grant is approved and money arrives in late November.
Art tour applications are sent by email to artists in October. An ‘emerging artist’ program allows a new artist to display at reduced rate. BCSAT will provide a hosted location, if needed.
Promotion begins in November including conversations with artists in the Twin Cities and having them hand out fliers. She designs the graphics for ads that will be run in December.
In January, Pariseau seeks payment from the participating artists and updates the website. In February, she sends press releases, places ads, emails Save the Date notices, and writes Facebook posts to be delivered daily until the tour.
Postcards and maps are updated, printed and delivered in March. She orders additional signs, if needed — signs with clear directions that bring people to stops along the tour. Each studio has a supply of maps to send visitors on to the other artists.
In April, Pariseau answers participants’ questions and delivers signs and other printed material. She makes one stop per town: Lanesboro, Rushford, Winona, Caledonia/Spring Grove.
“Sue is solely responsible for grant writing, defending, and reporting,” according to Finnegan. “She is consistently ahead of the curve with embracing and using social media to promote the tour and is a master at showcasing each artist. She created and maintains the tour website as well as the smart phone App.
“She has also developed a mentorship program for new and emerging artists. Her cheery, tireless energy while doing all of this as a volunteer is amazing and appreciated,” Finnegan commented.
Peterson, Minn. woodworker Jim Atkinson agrees with Finnegan. “All we have to do is open up and sell,” he says, attesting to how easy she makes tour participation for artists.
Old Crow Studio
Throughout this time, Pariseau is creating her own original art in her Old Crow Studio, anxiously hoping she has enough pottery fired in her wood-fired kiln. The tour is the biggest event of the year for her business.
With the help of friends, Pariseau hosts a wood-fired pizza potluck party at her studio on Saturday evening of the tour. She opens and unloads the kiln with the help of her guests who have first dibs on buying the new pots. The participating artists take the opportunity to get to know each other in a relaxed atmosphere.
Sue Pariseau and her husband, Kevin, built a lovely home near her studio at 40051 Fillmore County 12. Appealing sculpture pieces made by Kevin and friends invite you to follow the long driveway to the site. The studio is open by appointment year around.
With all involved in her home and business, why does she continue to organize and manage the Bluff Country Studio Art Tour?
“Bernadette was a force in the regional art scene and I am honored to continue just a small portion of her work after her passing,” she says. “This event is an asset for our communities, the region and most of all, the artists working here.”
Doing so, Pariseau says, is a satisfying extension of her career. She has been participating in numerous studio art tours for years. She also connects with other people who create and organize art tours throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
Throwing pots can be a solitary activity so she values those connections with others.
Providing a resource for local artists is important to her and the artists are very appreciative.
Weaver, watercolor artist and photographer A. Renée Bergstrom lives in rural Lanesboro.
Root River Current’s coverage of the arts is made possible, in part, by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts & cultural heritage fund.