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Terry Redlin -- "Art from the Heartland"

Collector Editions, Vol. 22, No. 5, September 1994, pages 73-75, Michael J. Major, Art from the Heartland - Terry Redlin's paintings reflect his patriotism and life-long love of nature

Terry Redlin remembers the scene in his home near Watertown, South Dakota, when, as a 15 year-old boy who had recently lost one of his legs in a motorcycle accident, he sat with his mother and a representative from the state who offered to pay his college tuition. "My mother said I wanted to be an artist," Redlin recalls. 'I could see the expression on his face as he said to himself, 'Oh dear, there goes our money.' Since I would be going to school in Minnesota, the state wouldn't even get it back that way."
Well, South Dakota is getting it back another way. Redlin--a three time winner of the National Association of Limited Edition Dealers (NAILED) Lithograph of the Year award and the man U.S. Art called "America's Most Popular Artist" in its March 1994 issue-is about a year and a half away from completing a museum that will house some 100 of his paintings. Located in Watertown, the building and ill of the art are being donated to his hometown.
Although Watertown is a rural town with a population of just under
20,000, it's situated on Interstate 29, heavily populated with tourists traveling, to the Black Hills and other attractions. So the gift should provide economic vitality to the town for some years to come. This isn't the artist's only gesture of generosity. Since 1981, his donations to Ducks Unlimited have raised more than $20 rnillion, setting an all-time record in art sales for wetland preservation projects. Redlin has donated an additional $4 million to other non-profit conservation organizations.
It might be natural to assume that the career path of such a successful painter proceeded like a trajectory right on target. But that's not the way it happened. Although, like many artists, he began drawing at a. young age, becoming, as he describes it, "the artist-in- residence for the school paper in the second grade," he forgot about art as he grew older.
Born in 1937, Redlin grew up in the stark simplicity of a small farm at the end of the Depression. Most of his life was spent outside in the lush hills, woods, lakes and prairie at the edge of the Great Plains. Fishing, hunting and camping were his favorite pastimes.
It was the trauma of his accident that brought about a spiritual re-evaluation and Redlin's commitment to art. But he was hardly overwhelmed by sudden success. Although the state paid his tuition his high-school sweetheart, Helene, whom lie married, supported     them while he earned a degree from the St. Paul School of Associated Arts. He then spent several decades working in commercial art, as a layout artist, graphic designer, illustrator and as a magazine art director.
What pushed Redlin into becoming in independent artist was not so much grand vision as the fear that he was about to be washed up in the career he had chosen. 'The company I was working for was going through corporate changes I worked with were being laid off, and I realized my days were numbered," Redlin says. "There are no old art directors, and I was getting older."
Redlin decided to set up a five-year plan with his family (he and Helene have a son and two daughters), and strike out on his own as a nature painter. One big advantage his background gave him was that he knew all about publishing, so lie was able to publish his own prints without going through a middleman. He did everything from scratch, not just the art work, but also the building of frames and making g his own matts.
Taking a conservative approach, Redlin continued working at his job, not cutting loose until he was earning four times as much from his artwork as he did from his salary. His big breakthrough came in 1977, when his painting Winter Snows" appeared on the cover of The Farmer magazine. By 1979, the demand for his work had become so great that he left his job to concentrate on painting wildlife.
The artist jokingly refers to much of his early work as "shotgun art," or very accurate and naturalistic renditions of scenes such as ducks flying over a lake. But his scenes gradually changed, gaining poetic depth, as he developed a style that he describes as "romantic realism." Redlin also evolved from a wildlife artist into one who captures a nostalgic sense of Americana, of homes or buildings that share a part of the rural countryside, but are also a bit apart from it. Even so, there is usually a touch of wildlife in his domestic scenes. But not always.
A recent work, he says, "recalls how we used to fly kites on the hillside. We would fish in the morning, then drag our wagon full of stuff up to our treehouse and fly kites. I've thought about it for many years, and now have recaptured it." This work, titled "Spring Fever," has been published as a limited-edition print by Hadley House.
What's the appeal of Redlin's work? "People like to relate to his
lifestyle," says Mary Miller, who works at The Gallery in Kearney,
Nebraska. "He touches a chord of the American heritage."
Adds Toni Henderson, owner of Prints of Elegance in Gaitlinburg, Tennessee, "Redlin appeals to every age group, from people in their early 20s to retired folks. Collectors come from all over the country, from the east coast, from the south and the west. He's the hottest artist in my gallery and accounts for about 60 percent of my sales."
Ninety percent of the Wausau Art & Framing gallery in Wausau, Wisconsin, is devoted to Redlin's work. "I've carried him for about 14 years, from. the limited market appeal of his specific wildlifes, to his now much broader perspective," says Kurt Keller, the gallery's president. "He pulls people's heart strings."
Redlin himself analyzes his appeal this way: "As a commercial artist, I spent my whole life pleasing clients. I really learned how to do that, and that's ingrained in me. Now I have to only please myself. I create what I want to create but I still want to please the public. I suppose, some people might call that commercial. But, so be it. There's tremendous freedom I don't have any one boss, just a sense of what pleases me and also might please, a lot of' other people, too."
A big boost to Redlin's career came in the late 1970s, when Ray Johnson, who worked in a single little gallery called the Wooden Bird, offered to distribute Redlin's work. Johnson's gallery grew to become the Bloomington, Minnesota-based Hadley House, which now handles all the multiple business aspects of Redlin's far-flung career.
Because of his commercial-arts background, Redlin decided from the beginning that he was going to concentrate on selling prints, rather than his original oils, he did, however, sell some originals in the beginning for he needed cash. But as soon as the money started coming in, his son suggested he keep the originals, which he did.
Redlin recalls that about ten years before he got started as an independent artist, a print edition of 100 pieces was considered big. At the time he went out on his own, acceptable edition sizes had grown to 500; when he published one on his early works in an edition of 720, he says he was roundly criticized. Now the conventional "limit" is 1,500, he tells us, but his work is typically issued in editions of 29,500. "If I had stayed at editions of 720, 1 would still be almost totally unknown," Redlin says.
Certainly, the availability of the artist's prints is an asset to collectors. And in addition to prints, plates (first issued in 1985), music boxes, framed tiles and ornaments featuring Redlin's work are now issued by Hadley House.
From his great fame and popularity, one might think that Redlin is a prolific artist slaving away from morning to night. Well, he is that way, but only for four months. From November through February he puts in long hours, completing about one painting a month.
At age 56, with his three children grown, he characterizes himself as "semi-retired," and does not work at his art the rest of the year. Except for one small catch. He spends three or four hours a day just signing his limited-edition prints. This is one key reason, Redlin says, that no matter how popular his prints are, he's not likely to increase the sizes of the editions in the future.
If unable to find Redlin's art locally, write Hadley House, a division of The Hadley Companies, at 1100 1 Hampshire Ave. S., Bloomington, MN 55438-2400, for referral to a dealer in your area.

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