Resident-artist program brings three to Marquette

Houghton-area native Julie Renee Benda is shown carving a piece of birchwood for a functional sculpture she is creating, which will remain at Peter White Public Library. Benda, who lives in Minneapolis, was one of three artists selected for the City of Marquette’s 2019 Creative Residency program. (Joseph Zyble photo)

By Joseph Zyble
Marquette’s Creative Residency program recently invited three artists, each working within a different creative sphere, to the community for a few months to hone their skills. Artist Julie Renee Benda, photographer Christopher D. Thompson, and writer Rachel Smith began their residencies in early March and will complete them at the end of May.

Julie Renee Benda
The artistic residency is a sort of homecoming for Julie Renee Benda, 33. The Minneapolis-based artist was raised near Houghton in the location known as Freda.
“Growing up in the rural Upper Peninsula infects all of my work. I believe it is because in many ways the elements of this landscape, community and way of life were my first vocabulary,” she said. “Subconsciously the vast forests, endless horizon and foreboding winters imbedded in me a language and understanding that I still use to this day to relate with others. I think you can see this through the patterns, symbols, material and content I choose.”
In May she was working on functional wood sculptures at the Peter White Public Library. The wood came from the property where she grew up, and her father helped her cut down the birch tree that she used for the project.
“It is a meaningful material for me, since I grew up surrounded by birch trees, but also, and most people don’t know this, I was highly allergic to birch as a kid. I had such severe eczema as a child that at five, my father had to cut down all the birch trees that surrounded our house. I guess in a way, I feel like I am getting to reclaim my relationship to this tree,” she said.
The sculptures, which will remain at the library, are sturdy bench seats with messages carved into them for those who use them…

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