A Gift to our Community on a National Level

For many of us, our artistic endeavors began and ended with our Crayola watercolors in the second grade. Frustrated with the typical, “That’s good honey, but what is it?” we set down our paintbrushes and engaged ourselves with other pursuits. For others like Tracy Melendez, however, that brush hasn’t gone anywhere. An art teacher at Fargo North High School, Melendez is just one of the many talented artists that will be on display at the Plains Art Museum during the 23rd annual National Juried Watermedia Exhibit. Hosted by the Red River Watercolor Society (RRWS), the exhibit will run from May 17 to September 4.

Melendez is one of five local artists accepted into the exhibit, which is a small feat in and of itself. According to RRWS President Dave Olson, over 21 states will be represented during the show. “The quality of people we bring here is impressive,” he said, adding that many of the artists featured during the exhibition have had work displayed all over the country. “The show is our gift to the community by making nationally recognized paintings available for viewing right here.”

The RRWS was founded in 1989 when three Fargo artists with a desire to learn more about watercolor painting decided to start an art organization in Fargo. Prior to the society’s inception, area artists had to travel a significant distance to attend an art workshop. Now, the group has grown from thirteen initial charter members to an organization of over 175.

The RRWS is a non-profit organization funded through the North Dakota Council on the Arts. It is open to anyone eighteen years and older who is working in two-dimensional water media, which includes watercolor, gouache, casein, egg tempera, and acrylic. For Melendez, it’s all about watercolor. “I like the more illustrative qualities I feel that watercolor gives me,” she said.

Much of Melendez’s work deals with the human figure. Most recently, she has been working with self-portraits. “I often describe my work as depicting allegorical narratives that convey a significant social message,” she said. “Sometimes the message or story is very obvious in my work and at times it is very subtle and there is more left for interpretation.”

The painting that Melendez will have on display at this year’s exhibit deals with the contemplation and internal struggle a woman would feel were she is suddenly dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. “The painting is not necessarily an image to spark a debate about the decision the woman will make, but instead it is intended for the viewer to think about how they would feel if they were in this woman’s shoes and had to perhaps ponder, does she have options?” she explained.

Melendez was also selected for the exhibit last year, displaying a painting of herself looking in the mirror at her two daughters. “I was really impressed with the talent and quality of works selected for the show,” she said. “I’m excited to see and be a part of the show again this year. I love seeing the different styles and approached by artists from across the country.”

In addition to the exhibition itself, the event also exposes local artists to a nationally renowned artist, who serves as juror and instructor. This year’s juror is Chicago’s Tom Francesconi, who will also teach a five-day art seminar. “By taking a nationally recognized juror, we really get a representation of what is currently happening in the art world,” Olson explained, adding that $350 seminar would cost upwards of $1,000 elsewhere in the country. “The show was put together in part for that education aspect.”

If you have never been to the RRWS’s watermedia exhibit, now is the time. Not only does it showcase local artists, it also shows artists from around the country that the art scene in the Red River Valley is alive and thriving. “The show will be up all summer at the Plains Art Museum and I think it will be well worth a visit,” Melendez remarked.

More information about the Red River Watercolor Society or the 23rd annual National Watermedia Exhibition can be obtained at www.redriverws.org.

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