story by: angela brandt
photo's by: nikki carlson
page design by: stacy mantle
One of Beryl Arvin's earliest memories involving art is sitting on her father's lap when she was growing up on a farm southwest of Opheim and asking him to draw for her. He would pull out the short pencil he always kept in his overalls and draw a “stick horse” for her.
Arvin took pastel classes in grade school. She remembers thinking, “If I could get some of that colored chalk the teachers use, I could do really big things.”
“I married a school teacher, so I could have gotten my hands on it, but I wasn't interested (in chalk) anymore,” Arvin added.
Arvin and Peggy Unterseher are the two featured artists this month at Artitudes Gallery in the Atrium Mall. A First Friday reception will be held for them today from 6 to 8 p.m.
Sometime after grade school, a friend told Arvin that chalk was too messy and suggested she try watercolors. She followed the friend's advice and continued to paint with watercolors up until she and her husband, Bill, and three kids moved to Havre in the '60s, and she began taking oil painting classes. Arvin has also taken classes in pen and ink, watercolor and calligraphy.
She said she started out with no training and did things her way, but oil painting was too expensive to not get training on how to do it right.
Arvin said she enjoys painting because she finds it comforting and good therapy.
“I can relax and lose myself in the paints,” she said.
Peggy Unterseher encountered art education quite a bit later in life. She had her first formal art training after moving to Havre five years ago to attend Montana State University-Northern. Unterseher, who moved around Montana as a child of a teacher and a school administrator, attended small high schools that didn't offer art classes. Unterseher graduated in May with a bachelor's degree in graphic design and in December finished a bachelor's degree in secondary English education with a minor in art education. She worked as a student teacher in both art and English at Havre High School.
Unterseher said she doesn't remember exactly what sparked her interest in art, but that it has always been a part of her life. She said her family has always been supportive.
“All I had to do is mention oil paint and my dad would send me some,” Unterseher said. “They made sure I was doing what I enjoy.”
Her sister, Cindy Lamb of Havre, was the one who convinced her to have her art display in Artitudes Gallery, a local artists cooperative. Unterseher said she is nervous because this is her first show out of college. She displayed her work in student shows at Northern.
Even though Arvin has never had a show outside of Havre, her work is displayed in the homes of friends and family from California to Minnesota. The pieces were bought in town and then moved with their owners to the different locales.
Her painting of a long row of bins located outside of Kremlin, “Many Bins,” sold to a Kremlin native at January's First Friday reception at the Atrium.
“I should have called it ‘45 Bins, Count 'em,'” she said after telling the story of a young boy at the exhibit who was counting each bin.
Arvin said she has been a member of the Havre Art Association before the group had a name - for about 35 years.
“I've been in the art association forever. We'd have to beg people to look (at our artwork) and after about 20 years, someone bought one,” she said.
She works about five shifts a month at the Artitudes Gallery.
Arvin has worked as a bookkeeper and a pastor's secretary and was a stay-at-home mom when her two sons and daughter were young. She now has four grandsons, a granddaughter and a great-grandson.
She has immortalized one of her grandson's feet in the piece “Walk Walk” and her granddaughter's feet and hands in another painting at Artitudes this month. The two pieces are hung on the not-for-sale wall in her display room.
Others that are off limits are owned by family members, including a few that belong to a son who is serving with the Montana National Guard in Iraq. When her son Bill was younger, he told Arvin that if she didn't have anywhere to put her paintings she could put them in his room. So some of her art has moved from his room in the family's house to his apartment and then to his home.
“I went down to my son's house and stripped it,” she added.
Unterseher said a third of her pieces are school projects that she is keeping, a third belong to family and friends and a third will be for sale.
Arvin keeps some of the work for herself and also buys her friends' pieces.
“We didn't have anything on the walls at first. Now they're this close,” Arvin said as she pointed to a group of painting that were about an inch apart from one another. “Friends say that only poor painters hang their own paintings in their living room, so I bought friends' paintings and now my house is filled.”
She said people can tell how old her paintings are by the size of the frames: “The wider they are the older they are.”
Arvin said her favorite painting in the exhibition is a still life featuring apples and a water pitcher, because she learned quite a bit while working on it. The piece was also featured in a Havre art show in 1968. She said she has her first painting at home because she was told to never sell the first one.
Arvin's paintings are done in watercolor, oil and food coloring. She first did the food coloring painting for a fall art show highlighting experimental pieces. Arvin said she prefers oil paints.
“I think I probably do better with oil paintings because I have done them longer,” she said.
Her subjects include family pets, landscapes and flowers.
“Of course, you see that I like roses,” she said as she pointed out a handful of her paintings depicting the flower.
Arvin takes photos of her subjects and then paints from the print.
“If I live 200 years, I'll never be able to paint everything I have taken photos of,” she said.
Unterseher said her favorite artwork is mixed media or collage. Her exhibit also has sculpture and photos.
A bulk of her work is done by painting on glass and then transferring the image onto canvas, a technique she learned in a college course.
“I like it. It's very challenging,” she said. “You have to give up control. You never know what the paints are going to do. It's a scary process, but also fun.”
It also takes a lot of paint and a long time to dry.
“It takes a lot of patience and a hair dryer sometimes,” she said.
One of her pieces done with the glass process is of a dragonfly. It's a collage made with acrylic paint, tissue paper, swatches from an old painting Untersher didn't care for and preserved rattlesnake skin. Two more of her works on display include rattlesnake scales Unterseher received from her father. The skin is used as the roof of a grain elevator and the seat of 1947 Indian Chief motorcycle. The motorcycle collage, “Original Blue,” which is also made of paper, paint and fabric, was a Christmas present for one of her friends and took about 100 hours to complete.
A few of Unterseher's pieces were done for a class, including a portrait of Janis Joplin and a re-creation of a 1930s magazine photo of a boy playing with a marble, which was done in unrealistic colors. For one project, she had to pick a famous person, an unusual animal, an art implement and a word. Unterseher chose Buddy Holly, a chameleon, a paint brush and the word unique. It's her favorite piece.
“I did it because my name is Peggy, Peggy Sue - I get that all the time,” she said.
Her display includes a sculpture, which Unterseher said was very challenging because it was her first sculpture of a nude model and also the first nude model at Northern.
She made a snow sculpture with a group from her introduction to art class. Unterseher was the only art major in her group, which was made up of diesel mechanics and automotive majors.