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Cummings' artwork on display

Local artist Bob Cummings has his paintings on display in the Detroit Lakes Library and will be hosting an open house Saturday, hoping to encourage others to paint. (Vicki Gerdes/Record)1 / 2
One of Bob Cummings' works. (Vicki Gerdes/Record)2 / 2

As a young boy growing up in rural Detroit Lakes in the 1950s, Bob Cummings knew from an early age that art was his true calling.

Though he put that calling on hold for a while -- working in construction for many years to raise his family -- Cummings has now come full circle.

Since his retirement at age 62, a little over two years ago, he has been able to pursue art full-time -- which Cummings calls "a dream come true."

"I realized I had some art talent when I was in the third grade," he says, noting that students would gather around his desk to look at his artwork, and the teacher would say, "You have a real gift."

But when he told his father, "Hey Dad, I think I want to be an artist when I get big," his father responded, "What's your next choice?"

When the young Bob protested, his father said, "Artists don't make any money until they're dead."

Though disappointed, Cummings considered his father's words, and basically "put it (the pursuit of art) on the shelf for a while."

As a senior in high school at Thief River Falls -- "we moved around a lot while I was going up," Cummings says -- he took his first art class.

Cummings discovered rather quickly that art was "a really good fit" -- aside from that class, "I was pretty bored with school," he adds.

After high school, Cummings joined the military, and spent the next two and a half years stationed in Germany.

"I loved the architecture, the scenery in southern Germany," he adds.

That European sensibility would continue to influence Cummings' art even after he returned to the U.S.

Upon his return to Minnesota, Cummings says his mother remembered his earlier interest in art -- it was she who "bought me my first oil painting set."

But despite completing two quarters at the community college in Fergus Falls, and a two-year commercial art course in Alexandria -- where he "graduated with honors" -- Cummings says he "still wanted to do fine arts."

Around this time, however, he met his future wife Elizabeth -- known as "Betty" to family and friends -- and three years later, they were married.

Though he took a "Sign & Design" class at the technical college in Detroit Lakes shortly after their marriage, Cummings ultimately ended up going back to construction.

"We've been a one-income family," he explains. "Betty and I decided that she would try to stay at home after the children came."

True to her word, Betty resigned from her nursing position at St. Mary's Hospital when their first child, Chris, was born, and for the next 25 years, home-schooled their six children.

"I feel we were blessed with five sons and a daughter," Cummings says. "You do what you have to do to make a living for your family."

After a few years in construction, Cummings went to work at the Frazee Care Center, where he would spend the next 24 years.

"It's emotional, challenging work," he says.

Meanwhile, Betty decided to go back to work at St. Mary's -- 30 years after she left -- and earned her recertification as an LPN. She currently works in the emergency room at St. Mary's Innovis Health, as it is now called.

While Betty works at St. Mary's, Bob says he is perfectly content to spend his days hard at work in his art studio at home.

"My wife says I would make a good hermit," he jokes. "I could spend days at a time at home in my studio upstairs, not seeing other people."

It's not that he doesn't like people, Cummings is quick to add -- he's just completely absorbed by his art.

"After so many years of hoping the day will come when you can be a full-time artist -- the thing you wanted to do since you were a little boy -- it's kind of a dream come true," says Cummings.

Though Cummings prefers to paint landscapes, he says his work is not exactly true to life.

"I don't try to make it photographic," he explains. "It's kind of a 'surreal realism.'"

Though he uses real landscapes as his inspiration, the actual artwork takes a more idealized view of what he sees. Some of his paintings were also inspired by the Black Forest and other favorite haunts from his years in southern Germany.

Area residents will have a chance to get an up close view of Cummings' oil paintings at the Detroit Lakes Library from now through the end of March.

Though the art is already on display, Cummings is planning an open house for this Saturday, Feb. 28, at the library, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. He will be on hand to answer questions about his work, and refreshments will be served.

"I want to encourage young people wanting to get into the visual arts, or anyone who has questions about painting," Cummings says.

For more information about the exhibition or open house, contact the Detroit Lakes Library at 847-2166.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454