A creative force of mass proportions, the Northern State University Art Department has left its mark, or brushstroke, nearly everywhere you look on campus, in the community and even on a global scale. From the brilliant exhibitions displayed throughout the Northern Galleries to the masses of yarn that can be found around campus when the Art Club “yarnifies” NSU, there is certainly no shortage of creativity flowing into and out of the NSU Art Department.
Its wild success is due in part to the constant hard work of NSU art students and the genius of the six professors who have shaped the department over the last several years – two of whom just so happen to call each other husband and wife.
The phrases “The NSU Art Department” and “The Blairs” seem to be synonymous with one another at this point - “The Blairs” being a reference to Dr. Greg Blair, associate professor of art/Northern Galleries director and Sara Christensen Blair, professor of art/chair of the department of art and theater. This duo seems to be doing it all with the art department, alongside their co-workers.
Upon completing graduate school in 2004, Christensen Blair found herself teaching at NSU, while Blair commuted to teach in Duluth, Minn. Three years later, the stars seemed to align for Blair as the position he currently holds became vacant. Soon thereafter, the Blairs found themselves working alongside one another at NSU. While this concept may sound daunting and risky to many, it seems to be quite the opposite for these two.
“People ask us all the time if we drive each other crazy by working at the same institution, but it’s really not like that at all. Even though we work in the same department, we can (and do) go entire days without seeing each other at work. It’s like we’re in two completely different worlds at work,” chimed in Blair, who teaches art history and sculpture courses, while Christensen Blair teaches graphic design, mixed media and general art foundation courses. “The thing we share the most are the students in our classes.”
It is clear that the Blairs are onto something as the room electrifies the moment they start to discuss the connection they share with their students.
“My favorite thing is that students come in with an idea of what they think art is and it’s enthralling to show them what it can be and what they can do with that information,” regarded Christensen Blair. “The idea that I can be integral in the present/future success of my students is something that continues to inspire me to be passionate about what I do on a daily basis.”
“I get to continuously be in an environment of learning and teaching where I am able to help students refine their visions and make them a reality. I don’t think you can put a value on the ability to experience such a thing,” mentioned Blair. “We’re in a position where we can get to know each and every single one of our students on a scale that you just wouldn’t find at another institution.”
Through the creation and development of new programs, such as a B.F.A. in Studio Arts, and through the amazing opportunities that they have created for art students, such as field-related trips around the country/world, the Blairs have been instrumental in leading the art department in the direction it is headed on a global scale.
“The greatest experience(s) I have had, thus far, at Northern would definitely be the opportunities that I have had to travel with students to places like Italy, New York City, and Chicago,” beamed Christensen Blair. “It’s so important to immerse future artists in art from new places and people. Through the eyes of students, I have been able to fall in love with some of my favorite places in the world again and again.”
The Blairs themselves will travel to Portugal and Ontario, Canada over the next several months to present at art conferences, all while Christensen Blair continues to perfect her upcoming exhibition, which will be displayed in the Johnson Fine Arts Center Gallery this November.
It is abundantly clear that the future of the NSU Art Department is shaping up to be nothing short of a masterpiece. The drive and passion exhibited by its students and the professors who call the department home will serve as pillars to the future success of art at NSU.
“Greg and Sara have been a big part of my Northern life,” said art student Erinn Rigg. “They're intelligent, creative professors with the best sense of humor, which has vastly enhanced my educational endeavors and college experience. I'm very thankful to have had the opportunity to not only be taught by them, but to build a strong professional and personal relationship with them as well.”