The Farmers' Choice features 28 pieces including paintings, prints, ceramics objects and cultural artifacts. Most of the works date from the 1930s onward and the majority produced in the region; but also featured are a sculptural object from ancient Greece, works on paper by 19th century French artists Honoré Daumier and Jean-François Millet, and a color lithograph by 20th century French cubist Fernand Léger.
The Farmer as 'Muse'
The concept behind The Farmer's Choice arose when the exhibition's curator, Arthur F. Jones (who was born and raised in the urban environment of Queens, New York), met local North Dakota farmer John Fortin while exercising at Choice Health and Fitness in Grand Forks. Finding out that Jones was an art history professor at UND, Fortin recollected his struggles years back when taking a required art appreciation course at Mayville State University. Hearing this, Jones was inspired to develop an exhibition that might persuade Fortin to become more interested in art.
To better understand agricultural subjects in artworks he was selecting, Jones needed help. So he sought information about farming from Fortin, who was invited to serve as the exhibition's consultant. Soon after, other people who grew up on farms expressed interest in the exhibition and a few also agreed to join the project as consultants—among them Art & Design Professor Patrick Luber, Empire Arts Center Executive Director Emily Burkland and UND Events Coordinator Dawn Botsford.
As exhibition planning progressed, Jones discovered more and more about the importance of farming to the region, and the project seemed increasingly meaningful and relevant. While the title, The Farmers' Choice, addressed the show's theme, it also alluded to Jones meeting a local farmer at Choice Health and Fitness. In turn, it also made reference indirectly to Choice Financial, a bank largely serving the farming industry that claimed the naming rights to the fitness center.
In addition, farming had directly contributed to the creation of the UND Art Collections Gallery at the Empire Arts Center. The Myra Foundation, which leases land to local farmers and distributes the net income from the farming operations annually for charitable purposes, provided a grant to fund the gallery's security system. Without the support of farming, there would be no security provided and important artworks from UND would not be on display.
"It seems appropriate to organize this exhibition in light of the importance of farming, which remains the greatest industry in North Dakota's economy," said Jones. The exhibition is intended to celebrate agriculture and encourage regional farmers to look at original art that relates to their daily lives.
About the UND Art Collections Gallery at the Empire Arts Center
The UND Art Collections Gallery at the Empire Arts Center is open free to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays noon to 5 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The gallery operates under the direction of Jones, a UND professor and chair of UND Art & Design and founding director of the UND Art Collections; and Dan Van Tassell, art collections preparator and registrar. The downtown gallery was established on Aug. 29, 2012, extending UND's rich collection of art beyond the campus borders. It was one of the first tangible examples of the University's commitment to expand its presence into the community – a primary tenet of the University's Exceptional UND initiative.