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The Intersection of Creativity and Christianity. An interview with Ruth (Tank) Pszwaro of the Grand Marais Art Colony

Dec 01, 2021 09:38AM ● By Editor
Ruth (Tank) Pszwaro ’98 graduated from Bethel with her B.A. in English Literature and Writing and minors in art and theology. She currently works as the artistic director at the Grand Marias Art Colony.  Photo: Bethel University

By Katie Johnson, Content Specialist from Bethel University - November 30, 2021

When Ruth (Tank) Pszwaro ’98 graduated from Bethel, she didn’t quite know what to do. She had a degree in English literature and writing with minors in art and biblical studies, and while she could picture her creative practice flourishing, she knew writing poetry would not be a main source of income for her. For the first five years after graduation, she had about seven different jobs in the Twin Cities before moving to Vancouver for an interdisciplinary master’s program that focused on Christianity and the arts. From there, she found herself in Nantucket, where she met her husband, Justin, and had their first child before returning to Minnesota, eventually ending up at the Grand Marais Art Colony with her second son in tow.

Throughout this Q&A, Pszwaro exemplifies a life rooted in wonder as she gradually discovered a career that fit her variety of interests, encouraging students that they don’t have to have everything figured out to justify pursuing a degree in a creative field.

What do you do at the Grand Marais Art Colony?

For a short answer, I curate space for artists and arts learners to learn, grow, and flourish in their artistic practices.

The Grand Marais Art Colony is a non-profit arts organization, and we turn 75 next year. I came on eight years ago, and I am the artistic director here, overseeing the planning, strategy and execution of the parts of our mission that relate to education, signature and community events, and residencies. I also oversee our six studios—a writing room, three multidisciplinary studios, a printmaking studio, and a ceramic studio. We host an annual arts festival that welcomes about 75 artists every July. And every other year we host the North Shore Readers and Writers Festival.

We've grown in many ways over the years. We started as an eight week extension of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1947. That program eventually became a private endeavor continued by the professor who started it and his business partner. When it became a non-profit in the ’80s, we received funding to be able to function year-round. 

 

Ruth and her husband, Justin, with their two sons.  Submitted photo

What drew you to this interdisciplinary field?

I've always explored that intersection between the visual and the written, specifically in the form of mixed media and poetry. Program development in nonprofit and higher education has been what I've gravitated towards in my career, because I like to grow things and try new things. Since my project-based master’s program in Vancouver required a lot of independent study, I took classes at the Emily Carr Institute of Art. I had a poetry advisor from South Africa who lived in the community. I was able to structure credits around these experiences.

At Bethel, I spent a lot of my time in the art department, in the English department and in theology. Those areas and the intersection between them have always influenced what I've been interested in and the questions I’ve asked. I really wanted to see what it meant to break down the sacred/secular divide between art and belief. What's the difference between a Christian artist and Christian art? Or an artist who's Christian compared to art that looks Christian?  

Did you come to any answers?

I think that in every profession, study and research pay off as you get further into it and you realize there is an excellence to pursue in any practice. Very concretely, poetry has an internal logic. As you add to your toolkit and resources, the more excellent your craft becomes. Artwork is not good because it's message driven but because an artist knows the aesthetic language and how to apply it to a piece of work. Artwork is good because of these internal systems coming together and resonating, drawing upon larger themes of truth, beauty, and goodness. 

Discovering this has been a long journey, but certainly, one that started with a lot of mentors—especially women—at Bethel.

What was it like to be mentored by these women at Bethel?

There are four in particular. One worked in the Office of the President and was pursuing an M.Div. She was just a thoroughly theologically grounded woman, and we would meet really concertedly. I felt like it was what made that experience so important, that she sought me out. At that point in life I really wanted to learn from someone who had gone ahead.

Another mentor was the head of Career Development and Calling at the time, and her ability to assess and analyze motivations and pursuits helped me see that vocation, or what we decide to do, is more tied to our identity than anything else. It's that process from birth to death where God continues to call out our identity and who we are versus one crisis point where we declare a job title. 

The administrative assistant who worked in the Christian Formation and Church Relations office was this delightful woman who asked such intentional and curious questions; she was an avid traveler who loved adventure. We ended up, not planned, being in Paris at the same time after I was at Bethel. 

And then my writing seminar professor really gave me the freedom to know that poetry and art were worth pursuing and that I’d figure out how to support myself while still creatively processing and engaging with the world. It was okay not to have a clear path.


To see the original article and read related stories, follow this link to the Bethel University website. https://www.bethel.edu/news/articles/2021/november/ruth-pszwaro