SEEING DAKOTA: New exhibit to display artistic and religious visions of South Dakota

A new installation in the Eide/Dalrymple Gallery will show visions and reflections of Dakota, told through the creative and spiritual eyes of local artist Sheila Agee and Augustana religion professor Ann Pederson.

The installation starts next Thursday and features several groups of free-standing door panels adorned with oil paint (Agee’s chief medium), as well as mounted canvases on the gallery walls where Pederson’s writings will accompany Agee’s work.

Pederson and Agee have been friends for 25 years after meeting through a mutual friend. During those years, they have participated in three Ride Across South Dakota (RASDAK) trips, where much of their inspiration for the project originated.

“The exhibit is really about what it means to see different parts of Dakota,” Pederson said. “We’ve been through two or three summers now of these RASDAK trips, and that’s where some of the writings and paintings have come from.”

Meanwhile, Agee has a colored history in the art world. She received her undergraduate degree at the University of Bemidji, went on to the University of Oregon for a Master’s degree in fine arts, managed the South Dakota Art Museum and ran the Civic Fine Arts Center, which later developed into the Washington Pavilion.

Agee said politics were very important to her when she left graduate school, so she began creating politically-themed art.

“I used to do political installations, works that spoke toward hunger, economic base, feminist issues and religious concerns,” Agee said. “At that time, we didn’t have what we have now, which is what I call ‘the 24/7’ on your phone, on the T.V., in your back pocket, all the time. It seemed important at that time to be able to use my art as a way of bringing awareness.”

However, shifting with the times, Agee has transitioned from political art to works that are more natural and grounding.

“Now, there’s too much information available to us all the time and I don’t feel a need to use my art as a way to present that political information to you,” Agee said. “I’m saying no, let’s stop. Let’s stop and take a moment. Take a pause. Train yourself just to find some beauty in your life, some content. Refresh yourself.”

Agee said she still follows politics but doesn’t think the world needs another person bombarding others with information.

When art department chair Professor Lindsay Twa asked Agee to do an exhibit, Pederson said, “Agee kind of laughed and said, ‘I’ll do an exhibit if Pederson does another one.’”

Pederson and Agee have collaborated before, displaying exhibits in the Center for Western Studies, including their 2012 show “Crossing Thresholds: Paintings and Prose.” The pair has been working on their current installation for about two years.

“We like diversions, both Ann and I. So we thought, ‘Oh, okay,’ knowing very well that as soon as we both said, ‘Oh yeah, that’d be fun,’ it was gonna grow from ‘Oh, here’s an idea,’ to ‘Here’s another idea,’” Agee said. “Now the balloon’s getting so big we can’t hold it up anymore. There’s just so many ideas incorporated into that big balloon.”

That balloon includes student involvement. Students from Pederson’s Exploring Christian Faith course and her teaching assistant, junior Lauren Sim, were all involved in the installation, as well as six of Agee’s “students”— the title given to “people who like to come [to her studio].”

“My intention of this whole thing was to have religious or theological themes embedded in the show,” Pederson said.  

Why door panels? Agee said she and Pederson wanted to display pieces that did more than just hang on the wall.

“We thought it would be fun to use the center space, and that whole thing kept evolving,” Agee said.

On the project’s website, Pederson wrote, “we invite people to look with intention, to ponder the images and words, and to gather insight from the art and words.”

Through Agee’s oil works and Pederson’s writings, Seeing Dakota bridges the gap between the spiritual and natural world.

Seeing Dakota will be available to the public from Nov. 15 to Dec. 13. The opening gallery reception will be held Friday, Nov. 16 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is free.

Click to enlarge photos and read captions below.

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