by Britt Aamodt
Dave Beauvais took the art class for his daughter.
“He wanted to find something they could do together,” says Karen Aamodt, who met Beauvais and his daughter, Julie, when they enrolled in a painting class at the Elk River studio of Harvey Schroeder.
This was the early 1990s. Aamodt didn’t know Beauvais and he didn’t know her. She’d recently moved to Elk River from Maryland, and Beauvais and his family were only then emerging from the blow of a double tragedy. His wife, Gail, and youngest son, Patrick, died within a short space of time.
Aamodt knew nothing of the tragedy. To her, Beauvais was just the guy with the great head of hair, awesome daughter and a detailed approach to painting. The detail came from his years working as a draftsman.
Neither could have anticipated that they would become friends, with each other and with several members of the class, and that the Schroder studio would introduce them to the world of art competitions.
Beauvais didn’t waste time in entering his paintings of flowers and Minnesota scenes into competitions. He won awards. But after years of mailing artwork to out-of-state competitions and driving to heck and beyond to deliver work to Minnesota shows, a thought niggled his brain.
“He wanted to create a national show right here in Elk River. The emphasis from the very beginning was on a first-class, professional show,” says Bob Meyer, who was also introduced to Beauvais through Schroeder’s studio.
The show became Arts In Harmony, Elk River’s biggest annual art competition, and as Beauvais liked to state, “The second largest juried art show in Minnesota next to the State Fair show.”
If Beauvais were saying that now, he’d have a finger in the air driving home the point and a grin tracing his mouth. He’d also feel compelled to add: “But the State Fair isn’t a national show. We’re national.”
Beauvais died June 8 at Our Lady of Peace Home, a St. Paul hospice center, after a six-year battle with prostate cancer. The art show, which marked its 17th anniversary this March, started as one man’s dream and has now become his shining legacy.
Elk River may have been on road maps before, but it took Arts In Harmony to put it on the arts map.
“Who would have thought Elk River? Artists would call and ask, ‘Where’s Elk River?’ They thought it must be some big arts town to have a show like this,” says Aamodt.
It was Beauvais who convened a meeting of Schroeder studio artists in the mid-’90s. Memories are murky but there were, apart from Beauvais, at least four attendees: Karen Aamodt, Nancy Gongoll, Bob Meyer and Marilyn Rumreich.
This was the planning committee for the first Arts In Harmony, which would take place in the cold, hard days of winter 1996. The timing of the show was purposeful.
“Dave wanted to make sure our show didn’t compete with other shows,” says Meyer, who in 2011 took on the mantle of Arts In Harmony director.
The timing has since prompted the legend that the show opening always takes place on the coldest, snowiest day of the year.
Nancy Gongoll says that never stopped artists from coming to the reception at the Sherburne County Government Center, the competition’s exhibition space.
“God, Dave loved that,” says Gongoll of the reception. “He’d be running around talking to artists. He knew everyone.”
Beauvais presided over the ceremony like a proud father, which in essence he was. And there was so much to be proud of. Hundreds of artists entered, from farther away and in greater numbers every year.
It got to the point later on that Beauvais would often tell the crowd at the awards ceremony that his own artwork hadn’t gotten in that year’s show, and he’d be pleased. Because it meant Arts In Harmony had arrived: It was a tough show to get into and a beauty to behold.
In the lead-up to the 2012 show, Beauvais was hospitalized, weakened by chemotherapy and kidney troubles. But he was on his cell phone every day, consulting with Meyer.
Fittingly, he attended the 2012 opening with his daughter, Julie, son, Tom, and granddaughter, Serenity. The biological children met their father’s creative offspring, which up to the end was on his mind.
“He wanted to know he’d left the show in good hands and that it would continue,” says Gongoll, who with Meyer and Aamodt carries on the dream built by Beauvais.