Katherine Beneby, MSUM Mass Communications
Fargo, N.D. — She has traveled all over the U.S. to art festivals and indoor wholesale shows. Her passion and dedication led to her winning the National Watercolor Society art show in California.
Kay Ornberg is the former owner of Art Connection, at 520 Broadway downtown. She is now retired and focusing on her family, as well as working at her home studio
The road to becoming an artist
Ornberg realized from a young age that art was her calling. She vividly remembers as “a small child, my family and I lived close to North Dakota Sate University.
There was a preschool art class for maybe a week and they enrolled me in that. I would walk from my house to NDSU. … In order for me to get there and not get lost I would follow my big tall neighbor who was college student at NDSU.”
Rising above her competitors
One of Ornberg’s proudest moments was participating in the National Watercolor Society show in California.
“This show was the only one of its kind that featured just watercolor paintings,” she said.
She was very interested, so she entered and was accepted. There was great competition, but Ornberg did not let that deter her.
She giggled and said, “We always had a joke as artists. We’d send our information in an envelope; we had to include a self addressed stamped envelope so when they rejected you it would come back in your envelope with your hand writing and so you knew that it was a rejection.
But this time it was in a different envelope and so I thought, ‘Is this going to be it?’ and they accepted the painting. So I shipped it out there and then I won first place which was unbelievable for a young mother in Fargo, North Dakota.”
Ornberg’s adversity with nude paintings
Ornberg, who had already obtained an art degree from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., had an open invitation by a professor who taught life drawing classes at Minnesota State University. She was welcome to be part of his classes anytime. This is where she started to paint nude models.
“I realized that we were too conservative here (in Fargo-Moorhead),” Ornberg said. “They were too hard to sell here, but I did have my work in galleries in Minneapolis, Chicago and even there they would choose the floral or whatever over the nudes.”
Ornberg experienced adversity for her bold paintings.
“I had my exhibit covered with bed sheets in South Dakota and the work removed from an exhibit and put into a closet at MeritCare (Clinic) in Fargo,” said Ornberg in an article in Arts Pulse newspaper.
Ornberg’s handmade clothing line
With an innovative mind, Ornberg is constantly thinking of new things. She grew up sewing and this propelled her to design her own clothing line, “Kay Louise.”
Ornberg had a fairly good experience traveling to exhibitions.
“I thought it unbelievable that I am doing this. I had one flat tire once. Nobody tried to run me off the road or break in. Oh, I did have a sewing machine stolen out of the back of my vehicle that was in Philadelphia,” she said.
Retiring business owner
As Ornberg got older, she realized that she needed a permanent location to sell her products. The art festivals and exhibitions were great exposure, but she desired to have a location that was air-conditioned. This would allow people to try on her clothing regardless of the weather. With this in mind, she decided to move to downtown Fargo that is about 40 miles away from her home.
She opened her business, “Art Connection” at 520 downtown Broadway.
Ornberg is now at a new phase of her life. She gave up her title as a business owner at the end of September to enjoy painting in her new studio located on her property. She looks forward to spending more time with her husband.
“My husband is retired and I should have been retired so we plan on doing more traveling,” Ornberg said. With a smirk on her face she added, “I’ll have to do more of the chores around the house I guess.”
A new journey unfolds
Ornberg recently moved to Rollag, Minn., and she loves the scenery of the farm fields, trees, hills and wildlife.
“What I am going to do is use my watercolor paper that I’ve already painted on with the transparent watercolor and a lot of those are figurative work so I’m painting landscapes over the previous paintings and then when I find the parts that I want to save, I’m going to try to include that in some kind of mysterious way into the new painting,” she said.
Those interested in viewing more of Ornberg’s work, can visit her website.