Press Release: Lillian's Vision

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program




Minneapolis—The Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts presents a new exhibition of seed portraits by artist Lillian Colton, a Minnesota legend. A self-taught artist now in her nineties, Colton has used seeds as her primary medium for forty years. Although she has displayed her artwork at the Minnesota State Fair for nearly forty years, this is her first museum exhibition. Opening July 30, the show will feature over fifty portraits ranging from American presidents, stars of the silent screen, pop artists, country musicians, and rock and roll stars to leaders in religion and science. The exhibition is curated by artist and guest curator Jan Elftmann.

Like any successful portrait artist, Colton is able to create compelling resemblances that resonate with the essence of her subjects despite her unconventional medium. With a photograph as her guide, she draws a map on a pre-cut panel. Using her fingertips, she then selects from a palette of over one hundred different seeds, which she stores in a special mouse-proof closet adjacent to her studio. Each seed is placed by hand, secured with Elmer’s glue and adjusted with a toothpick. Her skilled rendering produces passages of form and texture and subtle nuances of expression.

Colton grew up on the family farm in Sherburne, Minnesota where art was mixed into her daily life. She grew skilled at a wide range of handwork, including embroidering pillowcases, quilting, and making cut-work and “fancy-work” fabric pieces. In 1936 Colton moved to Owatonna, Minnesota where she opened a hair salon and styled hair until 1996. She drew loyal clients from Owatonna and the surrounding area, including one who came every week for fifty-five years. Colton observes an important tactile relationship between styling hair and arranging seeds. Many of her clients even brought her seeds from their farms. She says the movie-star magazines that graced her salon sparked her interest in celebrities as subject matter.

Having taught herself to paint, Colton entered the first seed mosaic in the Minnesota State Fair in 1966, the second year of the fair’s crop-art competition and won second place for her seed mosaic of a bird. She began making portraits and for many years won “best in show.” She had found not only her niche, but her passion. Colton still exhibits her works at the fair, though no longer for competition. At home in Owatonna, Colton continues to make art every day.

Guest curator Elftmann has loved Colton’s work since she was a child, visiting the Minnesota State Fair with her parents in the 1960s. “Lillian’s Vision” grew out of a respect that one artist has for another. Elftmann, herself is an artist also known for arranging ordinary found objects to create sculpture or installations. She is the founder and organizer of the Art Car parade, which includes her Cork Truck, a fixture in Minneapolis for more than a decade. This year’s parade celebrates its tenth anniversary on July 24. In 2001, Elftmann commissioned Colton to render her truck in seeds.

“It has been a great honor to organize this exhibition,” says Elftmann. “I hope everyone who has the chance to see the exhibition will appreciate her artistry as much as I do.”

Related Events An opening reception will be held for “Lillian’s Vision” on Thursday, July 29, from 7 to 9 p.m. A tour of “Lillian’s Vision” is scheduled for Saturday, September 11, at 3 p.m. Jan Elftmann will lead the tour of the exhibition, and Lillian will do a crop art demonstration. A “Critic’s Trialogue” featuring critic Rob Silberman will be held Sunday, September 19, 3 p.m. All events are free and open to the public.

The Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program is supported in part by a generous grant from the Jerome Foundation.