June 14, 2010

We’ve been doing collaborations for about twenty years. These pieces are made from wood, paper, paint, ink; in other words, they are mixed media expressions. They vary in size from a few inches to several feet. People often ask me, “Who starts first?”  The fact is that it happens both ways, I sometimes will produce some collage forms and at that point we take a look at possible over-all shapes, how the work will be realized.  Don will put some peeled poplar wood into a configuration and the piece slowly grows. Sometimes he begins with a form and I respond with collage shapes. Often we will make a working drawing and use it as a guide as we work. The viewer will note that one of the most important art principles in our work is repetition. The dominating element is probably color although texture and line are also apparent and important in the way we create the over-all design.  Is it harmonious?  We hope so.  Is it challenging and complex?  Yes, we want that to happen. Sometimes we have to make corrections.  A few times, not many over the years, I have pulled off the entire collage and area and re-designed it. We work toward perfection but human endeavors are never completely perfect. Persian carpet-makers included an intentional mistake in their masterful rugs so as not to design an affront the Creator.


Don and I had gone to Lake Superior, the South Shore where we have gone again and again. We  often slept on a beach in sleeping bags and spent the day wandering along the lakeshore, picking up stones, feathers, wood, shells, other found objects. I particularly, often used these objects in my art since I was already, at this time, a collage artist and used fragments of various materials in my art.  We cooked our dinner over a fire and watched the sun fall away in the west, setting the lake surface on fire.

The next day we drove back to Hand Lake and I lay our treasures out on a table top in the studio.  Don was building a wood wall object at the time, a wooden box with doors on the front that opened rather like church doors. It lay open and without a great deal of planning or forethought, the next day, I started to lay some of the Lake Superior objects, driftwood, feathers, inside of this box. We realized that something fantastic was happening, we were creating a collaboration.  Don helped me re-arrange the objects in a sort of shield-like form. We fastened them in there and hung it up on the studio wall and looked at it. One of us said, “Hey, I think we’re on to something here.” This is known in the language of artists, as a “breakthrough.”  We have had others since but possibly none so major as this one.

The design itself took on a Native American look, agreeable to both of us as we had been influenced by Native work in the past and admired Indian objects, crafts, locally and in the western part of the United States. We are still in awe of Native arts and over the years, I have shown work that is obviously influenced by Native forms to Native people, possibly to get their approval, wanting to sense that it was okay for me to do that.  After all, barrowing of this kind is the highest form of admiration and most of the great artists of history have done this, Picasoo, Modigliana, Gaugain, Mary Cassatt, Matisse, all included ethnic forms in their art.

This object which we named “Altar,” was finished the year before we moved to  Bemidji in 1987 and we still have it. It hangs next to  the piano in our living room.

Over a period time, years, the collaborations changed. They  became more thoughtful and less spontaneous but what was lost in spontaneity, we gained in imagination and thoughtful arrangements and composition. They have become our main source of expression and through twenty years or so, we have made hundreds of these wall works and they are in collections across the United States and in Europe. They are in private homes, in public spaces, in hospitals, in schools and universities and they have been exhibited in numerous exhibitions.

Three recent exhibitions of the Davidson/Knudson collaborations;

*Twenty-five Wall Works at Unity Church in St Paul, Minnesota

*Five Collaborations at the Blandin Foundation Buiilding in Grand Rapids

*Collaborations at the Miles Reif Center in Grand Rapids

A group exhibition at the Bemidji Community Arts Center in Bemidji

*My framer, Mark LaFond of  Mark’s Frame House in Bemidji, gave this exhibit a title

which I have used since then,   “La Crème de la Crème.”  The works of five artists

comprised this presentation, Marley Kaul, Vivienne Morgan, Jay Jones, Davidson

and  Knudson.

The Books

I am a writer as well as a visual artist. I have published fiction, poetry and essays.  My short story “Thinking of Samson” was published in The James White Review, and my essay “Where I Ought To Be,” was published in the University of Minnesota  Press book,  “Northwoods Writers Two.”   Loonfeather Press published my memoir which tells the story of our renovation at Hand Lake,  “The Pig Barn.”  Recently I self published a novel  “Hester’s Gift,” which is available from Amazon.com and from me by contacting via  email. The memoir is out of print but it is available here also. This little book has become a collector’s item and has been sold at very much higher prices than are offered here. “The Pig Barn” or “Hester’s Gift” will be mailed immediately upon receipt of  $10 by check to Oval Stones Press, 108 26th Street NE, Bemidji, 56601. Please look at the  Contact Page.

An excerpt from “The Pig Barn.”

The Pig Barn,  A Memoir

“It was a pig barn, so they told us, a long, low, log building hugging the top of a grassy hill, abandoned for years, something vaguely Scandinavian about it, solid, serious, as though its builder had something permanent in mind and hadn’t smiled often while constructing it. There were small, squarish windows,  open to all weather, bordered by flapping, discolored plastic and on the roof, black torn tarpaper held down by long wood strips.  On the north side, toward the lake, was a series of animal pens, all of aging wood gone silver-gray  in the weather.  To me they suggested picture frames, weathered boards around a colorful  landscape.”

An  excerpt from “Hester’s Gift”


“After school she stood on the front porch to watch the children walk away. Arvid hung back, leaning against the outer wire fence and sucking his thumb as if it were candy sweet, waiting for the others to get well up the road, his free hand deep into his bib overall pocket, unabashed in his fiddling with himself. The other children were wandering slowly up the road in clusters, some to the east and some to the west. The woman who drove the little black school bus which was really more a panel truck, had already come and taken the children who lived farther away, those from Wilma, a group of six. A little white dog came racing down the road from toward The Tabernacle and bounded gleefully onto Benny Whippholt who knelt down and hugged the animal like a person.

“Why don’t you run along with the others?” Phyllis said to  Arvid who had moved over closer and was standing holding on to the water pump handle gazing at the sky. He turned and looked solemnly at her, spittle in the corners of his mouth, one hand still massaging the contents of his crotch, and said sadly, “Willie. He hits me all the time.”

“Take your hand out of there, Arvid. Stop that scratching. Put your hands down at your sides. Like that. Now just stay that way. Arvid. Stop that. Did you hear me? Stand still and keep your hands down at your sides. Now, what did you say?”

“Willie hits me,” he said dreamily.

She would like to go down there closer to him but she had been happy to get away from the  stench that emanated from this child all day inside the school. It was good to be out in the fresh air. She would have to do something about that. This boy needed a bath and probably needed one daily. His odor was that of smoke, urine, sour milk, undercurrents of vomit. His bib overalls were soiled in the front, nameless substances. He was generally unwashed, body and clothing. It was not right for a child to walk around in this state of filth and she would see to it that the situation changed. She would have to see his mother about that.

“He can’t do that,” Phyllis said to the boy and stepped down to the ground. “If he hits you, you have to come and tell me about it and I’ll see that Willie does no more hitting. I’ll make him stop it. Now be a good boy and run along Arvid. Now stop that! Take your hand out of there! Keep your hands in front of you like this. Okay, now off you go.” As he walked away, his hand went immediately to his rear end, scratching and digging away, oblivious to the world. Phyllis said defeatedly, “Oh, my word. That poor kid.”

As she stood there watching as Arvid staggered away, for he walked like a drunk, she observed that the old woman she had seen the day before, the one with the long walking stick and heavy long skirts extending to the ground, was advancing down the road in a determined gait, her head bent to watch her own steps. Phyllis walked quickly over to the fence where she could get a better look at her as she passed. But was it right to stare at her?

When Arvid saw the old creature, he cowered to the opposite side of the road as if he’d seen some terror, even holding up one arm, as if warding off a blow. The old woman stopped in her tracks and turned to him, raised the walking stick and shook it at him like a witch in a fairly tale, about to put an evil spell on him. If she spoke to him Phyllis couldn’t hear it at this distance and then Arid rushed on, staggering, lurching, then looking fearfully back, seemingly terrified that the old woman might pursue him. But she was already on her journey, marching away from him, the stick back on the ground, banging down with each step, apparently undaunted despite the weight of clothing she wore. She seemed to have some goal, some destination, and would walk until she dropped to reach it.”


Works of art, the collaborations, individual work by either artist, may be purchased through this site.  Davidson and Knudson may be contacted by phone, (1-218-751-9654),

by email,  davidson@paulbunyan.net or by regular mail. 108 26th Street NE, Bemidji, MN 56601.

Davidson/Knudson will deliver collaborations within a hundred miles of Bemidji and also, we make frequent trips to the Twin Cities so work can be delivered there as well.

Smaller works may be shipped but larger pieces, say five by five feet, are very expensive to ship and we recommend other arrangements.  People visit our studio in Bemidji both to simply look at work and also, to purchase so be assured that you would be welcome. A call before your visit would be advised.

Collaboration celebrating Unitarian/Universalist fellowships everywhere.


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