Professional artist Albert Lea retires after decades
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Rory Mattson at work painting a bird. Provided
Mattson enjoyed painting nature scenes, especially birds. Provided
Mattson has been involved in art since he was a child when his father worked as a medical artist. Provided
Rory Mattson is ready for a show in Lacrosse, Wisconsin. Provided
After a life devoted to art, Rory Mattson retires as an artist.
Mattson’s father was involved in medical arts at the Mayo Clinic, and Mattson has been involved in the arts since he was young.
When he was in fifth grade, his teacher asked him to draw a dog, something Mattson was happy to do.
“The next time the art teacher walked in, she was like, ‘Where did you track that down?’” she said. “And I said I didn’t do it, I just drew it.”
So the teacher hung it on the wall, a moment she described as exciting because she didn’t know people appreciated art.
After moving to Albert Lea in 1969, he discovered two other artists in the area, Bill Lauman and Chris Christensen.
“I got to know them, looked at their work and thought it was pretty good,” she said. “I thought, ‘Damn, I can do this.'”
So he started painting.
Mattson’s main specialty was nature, particularly birds, butterflies, reptiles and insects, along with barns and landscapes.
“People would come to the house and see an artwork that I had sitting on the table and go, ‘Oh, I’m going to buy that,'” she said.
Back then, he charged between $10 and $20. But over time and as he got better, he built a display and attended the Art in the Park show, which he had a “really good” response to.
He also applied for the Heritage show at the Dayton auditorium in the Twin Cities.
“It was one of the top three nature art shows in the Midwest,” Mattson said. “I requested it almost as a joke, and a week later they called and told me [I’d] been accepted”.
Then he drove up there and hung up his work. As she walked, she saw artists like Dave Maass and Jim Killen, who Mattson described as his hero.
“The best watercolors I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” he said.
Killen actually saw Mattson’s work and praised it with the caveat that his presentation was bad. So Killen suggested that he find the best framer he could, and Mattson brought in Steve Tubbs to frame the pieces.
That first year at the Heritage show he sold three pieces. The second year he sold nine framed works in the first 45 minutes of the show.
Sensing a trend, he kept Tubbs on as a framer until Mattson retired, around age 35. Mattson called hiring Tubbs the second best decision he’s made since picking up a paintbrush.
After that show, she began applying to others in the Midwest and headlined shows in Topeka, Madison, St. Louis, Kansas City, La Crosse, Tulsa, and Des Moines, among other places.
“It worked out like everything else in my life,” she said, referring to what she considered a lucky streak.
The idea for the retreat came about while doing five to seven shows each summer, and then two or three more around the state.
“Over time it was really nice to do a lot of shows because I would get some honest shows and so on,” she said. “But over time I started limiting the shows because it’s a pain in the neck to lug around your display and everything.
“I would spend two or three days on the road, and you have hotels and motels,” she said.
But when the pandemic hit, he saw circumstances not so bad for the 80-year-old. And he said his wife was tired of helping him carry and arrange his work.
Last year, he donated all of his supplies to the Albert Lea Art Center, but still plans to paint as a hobby.
“I can’t tell you how much the city of Albert Lea has supported me,” she said. “… It’s just a great little community, I love it very much. Everyone who bought my art, thank you 100 times.
Mattson’s primary medium is watercolor and painting for him was a hobby he did solely for himself.