by Bruce Strand, Arts editor
Growing up on the north shore of Lake Superior, Gary Leland was inspired from an early age to draw the birds, fish and animals that call that beautiful area home.
This passion has stayed with Leland all his life. His first art exhibit of wildlife drawings was set up by his third grade teacher in Duluth.
His latest exhibit will start Tuesday at the Sherburne County Government Center and last through June 17. The 69-year-old retired art teacher will exhibit 40 paintings of landscapes and Minnesota wildlife in acrylic and watercolor.
Leland, who taught in the Osseo system for 34 years and lives on the Mississippi west of Elk River, is a full-time painter since retirement in 1999 and does as many as 12 shows per year. He’s shown in five states.
“I have a completely different style,” he offers. “I am not a photographic painter of wildlife. I’m almost an impressionist.”
He adds, “I paint the subjects that I have experienced first-hand in our natural world.”
Leland has painted in a variety of mediums such as expressionism, abstract, impressionism, and cubism. He always encouraged his students to experiment in order to discover their personal preferences.
“Successful art work is, after all, 10 percent talent and 90 percent hard work,” he said. “I would constantly tell my students to practice, practice, practice.”
Leland relates that during the mid-1970s he developed a wildlife art class that involved drawing and oil painting. It was a popular elective for a time, before budget cuts eliminated that hour-long class and replaced it with a half-hour painting class. That was too short a time for oil paint to dry, so he switched the medium to watercolor. He became devoted to becoming proficient in watercolor so he could pass the skills and techniques to his students.
To give his works a more distinctive look, Leland developed a birch-bark frame (it’s actually wallpaper) for his watercolor prints. At Osseo he had done matting and framing for his students and used that experience to develop ways to display his own work as a professional artist.
The 40 pieces on display at the government center represent a 35-year span of work from the 1976 “Big Wave on Superior” to the 2011 “Breakfast at Dawn.” His subject matter is from Minnesota sites including the Elk River area, South Dakota and New England.