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Friends & Neighbors - Painting a pretty picture

For about 40 years now, Ulen native Jean Harney has been a painter.

Whether it's oils, acrylics, silk screen (a form of print making known as serigraphy) or her current favorite medium, watercolors, Harney has always loved the thrill of creating her own artwork.

"I've always drawn things," she says. "I minored in art in college, and when I got married, I started painting."

What she loves most about painting, Harney says, is that it makes her look at the world differently.

"I think people who do artwork see things more carefully -- it makes you really look at things closely," she says. "I'm always seeing something that would make a good painting."

A lifelong summer resident of Camp Nidaros on Otter Tail Lake, she spent her childhood years growing up in Ulen, as the daughter of Lutheran pastor I.J. Tanner.

For the past 45 years, she has lived in Scottsdale, Ariz., during the remainder of the year; her three children and three grandchildren all reside in nearby Phoenix.

Now a widow, she still comes back to the lakes area every summer, and this June and July, she's giving fellow residents an opportunity to see the results of her labor, as the featured artist at the Detroit Lakes Public Library.

The subjects of her watercolor paintings may look familiar to some, as Harney frequently uses local landmarks and other subject matter as inspiration for her work.

Best known for her whimsical paintings of beach scenes, fishing, boating and other lake activities, she has done a great deal of commission work for residents of the Becker-Otter Tail county lakes areas.

"Whimsical paintings of everyday life are my favorite subject matter -- especially involving the lakes, beaches and fishing," she says. "Landscapes, gardens and old buildings also interest me."

But not all of the subject matter in her work is familiar: Since 1995, Harney and a group of three friends, all artists, have made numerous trips to France and Italy to paint.

"We rent a house together, then rent a car and travel around the area to sketch and paint," she says. "We critique each other's work in the evenings."

The foursome has managed to create enough artwork from these trips to stage three separate shows together since 1995, Harney says.

"I am an active member of the Art of the Lakes Art Association in Battle Lake," she adds. "My work can be seen at their gallery in Battle Lake, and also at the Main Frames Gallery in Perham.

"Each summer I participate in the Phelps Mill Festival in July, the Artists' Studio Tour, also in July, and the Battle Lake Street show on the second Saturday of August."

The aforementioned Art of the Lakes Studio Tour is scheduled for Friday, July 20, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday, July 21, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Open to the public, this tour features the opportunity to visit with artists in their studios, view artwork in progress, watch demonstrations and ask questions. Visit the Art of the Lakes Association Web site, for more information, or contact Harney directly at 218-495-2207 or by e-mail at

Harney's work will also be featured at the DL Library's main meeting room through the end of June. Call the library at 218-847-2168 for more information, or send e-mails to

Detroit Lakes Public Library is part of the Lake Agassiz Regional Library system. It is located at 1000 Washington Ave., Detroit Lakes.

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