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3. The Bowling Ministry

"Oh, look at this book! You've got to read it!" I was talking about 'Evidence That Demands a Verdict" by Josh McDowel. I read it shortly after becoming a Christian and it helped me to realize how the Word of God is really true and not just a collection of stories with deep meaning. There were a bunch of people in the book room, a small bookstore set up for the Bible Conference in Fargo, North Dakota. Tim was there and I was thinking how I couldn't believe I just yelled that comment out. I don't even know if I was talking to anyone in particular.

He struck up a conversation with me after that. We talked about nothing and finally he asked me a pointed question, "What do you think about the bowling ministry?" I said, "The bowling what?" Then the conversation dwindled into nothing again and I kept thinking why couldn't he just ask me out for ice cream...or something. I hated bowling.

So that was the end of our almost 2nd date.

Playing the piano is what kept us close for the next three weeks. We didn't have a lot to talk about but we had a common mission: spreading the Gospel. A group of young men, Tim being one, were brought together by Jabe Nicholson, Boyd Nicholson and my brother, John Bjorlie. I was the designated pianist. Every morning was Bible teaching by Jabe and Boyd and every afternoon was knocking on doors with a Gospel meeting every night. This was the schedule for 3 weeks as we traveled across the state of North Dakota.

During the last week of meetings which were held in my home town of Valley City, ND, Tim and I actually had several conversations. We talked about everything including our dreams for the future. He wanted to kiss me but I insisted that he explain his intensions first. That is when he asked me to marry him. I admit, I forced the issue.

We were engaged. We didn't even really know each other. We just knew that we were both Christians, both wanted to serve the Lord and both were infatuated with each other. We were married 2 months later and drove across the country to Navajoland.

Buy "Evidence That Demands A Verdict"

ArtPrize: The Story of Rain, Chapter 3; Emily

There was not an official agreement to have my niece, Emily, model. It was an idea tossed around; just a suggestion but my wheels were turning. What if I she would agree to let me use her disability in the sculpture?
Emily, the sharp-witted/quiet, non-assuming/beautiful, girl/woman is a walking conundrum. Her disabilities are major but not readily noticeable. She has what we used to call a 'withered' arm. She has limited use of her right side and has had a kidney transplant. The two physical ailments may or may not be related. It's funny how doctors don't really have an explanation for why Emily suffers this way. She knows that God knows and He is the one who helps her the most.

Emily didn't ask a single question. All she said was, "yes!"
Before I entered ArtPrize I decided exactly what I would enter and made a maquette. A maquette is a miniature clay model that represents what the final sculpture will look like. My maquette stood about 14 inches tall. It showed my idea of a girl standing in the rain, looking up to the sky and holding a giant leaf in her hand. Her right hand is lifted to touch a drop of rain to her lips. The name, 'Rain', tells part of the story. My intent was to let the viewer tell their own story about this person interacting with nature.

Ann Bjorlie, my sister-in-law, was exited about ArtPrize too. She wanted to help me get the job done and help to promote my entry. I knew it would take a lot of time and energy to accomplish the task and there was only 2 months to work. I welcomed the help but warned her that this effort may not pay off. I had no way to pay her for helping me. She was eager to get involved. It seemed to me that she was the only other person I knew who understood the significance of this endeavor.
We began by cleaning out my garage and finding all of the equipment needed. Ann helped me load up a huge block of styrofoam from Michigan Foam in Grand Rapids, MI. We set it up and I began cutting it down. This was the wrong kind of foam to use and I found out much later that I should have used a much denser product. There were little styrofoam balls floating all over the place. It was the beginning of a huge mess.

Then Emily stepped up to model and things began to take shape. She brought along some patience and I continued to carve away. Soon I realized that the styrofoam would not work for carving fine detail. Casting would be the next step.

2. Giving Up My Art

Story Book Lodge Christian Camp is in the middle of the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota. This is where Tim and I met. He spent summers there as a camp counselor and I came to help out in the kitchen.

On a starry night I worked late in the dining hall painting a poster.  Tim came around to turn out the lights and insisted that we must follow the camp rules. I laughed and kept working. He came back about 15 minutes later and proved he was serious by turning out the lights. I suggested that he should escort me to my cabin since it was now very dark. It took about 5 minutes to walk to my cabin and that was the end of our first date.
In 1979 I graduated from College in Billings Montana with an art degree and moved to Minneapolis. Finding a job was tough since there was a recession going on and work was scarce. After several promising interviews that didn't pan out I took a temp job as a Nurse Assistant. I worked in several different rest homes or nursing homes as they were called back then. 

My employer was an odd religious group that started an enterprise to support their cause called Selfless Service to Others and I think they were Buddhists. They didn't say exactly. At the time I had no interest in religion and wanted to keep that subject out of my life. But one day as I stepped outside into a winter wonderland I saw the most beautiful bright red cardinal alight on a snow covered branch within arm's reach. My footsteps crunched on the icy snow. The cardinal flitted away and bounced from one branch to another disrupting the snow. The white powdery stuff floated slowly to the ground.

Earlier that day I read an article in the newspaper about evolution. There was evidence now that man did not evolve from apes. It caught my attention because I was questioning my beliefs and wondering if there really was a God.

Within a day or two my brother called and asked me to stay with Grandma while he and his wife took some time to travel. They lived with Grandma Bjorlie in Pekin, ND.  John was a Christian and had been saved since I was 17. I remember him telling me one thing. "Anna, if you ever want to know that your sins are forgiven you can pray to God and He will hear your prayers. His Son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross for your sins." I knew then that he was serious about this Jesus stuff and he had the answers. But I kept on my merry way living a wild and crazy life for 8 more years.

I agreed to go to North Dakota for 2 or 3 weeks. Grandma was born in 1891 and lived a simple quiet life. My job was to keep her company and take care of her daily needs. There was no TV reception and one old radio that worked but there wasn't much to listen to. My brother hung framed Bible verses in every room. After the first week I had read every Gospel text on every wall at least 24 times. After the second I had them memorized. I pondered them but could not understand what "fleeing the wrath to come" and "wages of sin" and "neglect so great salvation" meant.

That is when I decided that if there is a God I really should find out what He has to say. So I found a Bible and began reading. It wasn't long before I was bogged down in Leviticus and decided to try the New Testament. After Matthew, Mark and Luke I entered the book of John. This is where I met the Savior and finally understood exactly who He is and what He did.

And He did it for me. He died on the cross for me. This was amazing and I literally saw my life flash before my eyes. It was a strange experience remembering everything I almost ever did. That is when I gave it all over to Jesus and he cleansed my heart and it was all gone. It was a burden of sin lifted. All of those past grievances and problems and difficulties. Whatever it's called it all boils down to sin.

But art was a significant part of my life. I was an artist. It was part of my identity. Could I give it up for Christianity? Should I? At the time I needed to give it up because it was the most important part of myself. I didn't know at the time that God gave me this gift of art and I could use it for His glory. I thought that I would say goodbye to ever calling myself an artist again.  I really did have a cathartic moment of cleansing and rebirth. My life was saved, regenerated. I was new again and now I was Anna Bjorlie, the person, not the artist.

That was the first day of Spring in 1980. About 2 months later I was at Story Book Lodge flipping flapjacks at five o'clock in the morning and painting posters at ten o'clock at night and getting to know my future husband.

Check out the website below to find out more about the history and mission of SBL.  http://www.storybooklodge.org/history.html

Art School #3: Miss Personius

It was a contest and we were all judges. The charcoal drawings were held up by the teacher, Miss Personius. She was exactly like her name; Precise, smart, well dressed and predictable. That was what every student yearned for. Above all else she was fair. You knew what to expect and knew that she would always understand and come through for you.

Everyone agreed that there were 2 especially good drawings and for some reason we needed to decide which one was best. Maybe the kids all had to know or there was an exhibition that the one drawing would enter. I don't remember that and I don't know why my drawing wasn't up there. Maybe I had been sick and wasn't there for the art class.

My favorite drawing was of a tree. It showed the texture of the bark and was an unusually close up look at the tree trunk with just one or two branches. The other drawing was of a horse. Again close up with just the profile of the horses head. But I wasn't impressed because I refused to let the subject matter influence my vote.

The votes were split and there was lots of disagreement and loud chatter about which one was number one. Then Miss Personius asked me,  "Anna what do you think? Which one do you like best?"
There I sat in the back of the row of desks and then stood up like many of the kids who were too exited to keep their seats. "The tree", I said  with conviction. There was silence and then everyone started chattering and debating all over again. We voted again and this time the tree won.

I walked up to the front of the class and stared at the two drawings. There was the horse; beautiful like horses are and there was the tree.  I couldn't understand why it looked so different. The bark was represented by short course lines and the outline was so primitive. I was kind of surprised because it looked very realistic from my seat in the back of the room but up close it looked so different.  It was not realistic but it was interesting and very black and white. 

Miss Personius was one of the best teachers in the world and she knew her class well. It wasn't long before I was getting used to wearing glasses. Now I would see the world differently.

ArtPrize: The story of Rain, Chapter 2; Finding A Venue

Finding a venue for Artprize is challenging. The system is designed for venues and artists to match up on their own. No outside authority or jury decides who gets in or where the exhibit happens. There are rules but they are not difficult to follow. Venues simply have to be inside the downtown Grand Rapids radius that is mapped out. 

Any location can apply to be a venue as long as they are able and willing to staff the venue during ArtPrize hours. Accessibility is also a requirement. The registration fee is about $100 and there are other expenses that may be incurred depending on how involved the venue becomes. Some venues will throw big parties with live music and refreshments to bring in the crowds. Others will do a lot of publicity to promote their business or organization.

The cost for artists to register is $50. Literally anyone 16 years and older can enter ArtPrize as an artist. Once you are registered you can publicly promote your work on the ArtPrize website and start connecting with venues. This process of finding a venue that will exhibit your artwork and help you promote it is like The Dating Game for artists. I call it the American Idol of Art because ultimately the public decides who wins.

I found about 35 different venues that I liked and sent them emails with contact info. My favorites were non profit organizations. The response was limited to about 5 very different locations and I looked for the one that best suited the sculpture I was planning.  None of the offers fit quite right and I was getting ready to settle. There was only about one week left before the deadline when Mary Free Bed Hospital responded to my email. I was hesitant because they are located on the very outskirts of the ArtPrize boundary and I knew that the crowds would be close to the center of the city.
We set up a meeting to check out the venue. I met with Meg from public relations and we discussed the location and the sculpture. Even though I knew nothing about Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital we had some things in common. My brother-in-law, Mike Donahue, had been a patient there in the past and he also exhibited some of his artwork at their annual art show. Meg told me up front that they had hopes of finding an artist with a disability. I suggested that they might settle for a model with a disability.
That is when I thought about the possibility of Mike's daughter, Emily, becoming the model for the sculpture.
Meg and I tossed the idea around and we shook on it. I had a venue! Now the real work would begin.

ArtPrize: The story of Rain, Chapter 1; Entering ArtPrize

Reading about the concept for ArtPrize in the Grand Rapids Press the first time was exciting. Half a million dollars in prize money? For art? Unheard of! I talked to every artist I ran into to see what they thought about it. 

"Are you going to enter this competition? It's open to anyone in the world. No jury which means no hierarchy of art elitists who determine who or what gets in."

No one would commit but everyone was very much intrigued and pondered the possibilities. I began to formulate a plan.
Here was an opportunity to present my passion to the world; sculpture.

 I reserved a spot in my brain for ArtPrize dreaming. This was the think tank for materials acquisition and logistics, space planning, funding, and above all -inspiration and design. Whenever I caught myself in that daydreaming place I connected with the 'ArtPrize Station" and took up the task of flaming the dream.

No one knew what kind of impact this art exhibit would have in the Spring of 2009.  Not until it happened that Fall were people completely amazed.  

I knew that the prize money would draw a lot of competition and a lot of interested people and I hoped that my artwork would sell. The thought of winning some of that prize money was always a carrot but what kept me driving towards the goal was the commitment of having my name publicized. It is a huge risk to put yourself on the line out there where everyone can see it and talk about it. The public forum is daunting and scary.

I paid my $50 and signed up on line to be one of the hundreds of artists to take the risk. Then I found some info to post about myself and started the search for a venue.

LINK TO ArtPrize

Art School #2: Mary Tyler Moore

My second grade teacher didn't last long; hardly a year from graduating with her teaching degree and getting married. She was beautiful and everyone said it right out loud. She looked like Mary Tyler Moore in 1961 with dark brunette hair in a flip and red lipstick. She wore dresses like all girls did in those days; big skirts with petticoats and belted waists.

I drew her portrait, secretly, of course. She deserved it but it didn't turn out quite like I wanted.  Her profile filled the page but her nose was crooked and her hair didn't fit on the paper. This was a disaster and I wasted no time in crumpling the paper into nothingness. I threw it in the giant waste can on the other side of the room and marched back to my seat. I was determined that no one would see this morbid creation.

Just as I was sitting down I saw Arthur leaning over the garbage can. He was digging around for something and I was mortified. He found it, smoothed out the paper and held it up for everyone in the room to see! Then he lifted his desk top and placed the original there. He looked at me with a crazy smirk as he dropped the desk shut. He had stolen my artwork!

My heart sank but I remembered that I didn't sign it and no one needed to know who I was trying to draw. I ignored Arthur for the rest of second grade. It was easy to do since he sat on the opposite side of the room.

Turquoise Sky and Red Mesas

We met in Northern Minnesota near Bob Dylan's home town. We were married there and moved to Arizona to live with the Navajos.
How we met and why we lived with the Navajos is a story I will tell you.  I still dream about the turquoise sky and red mesas. The high dessert in the southwest is an artist's mecca. Some day I will go back there and paint.

But now here we are,  living in Michigan. It's like having a bit of eastern city life with the midwestern culture still in tact.
My smart and funny husband makes life entertaining and interesting. We love to hear our names, Neena and Greepa, spoken by our 2 lovely little granddaughters.

Yes, life is good here and I thank the Lord for all the gifts of life and love bestowed on me. He has blessed this family with good health and strong ties to one another; all three totally different sons and their beautiful wives live here in Michigan.
They call this the midwest but I remember the open prairies in North Dakota with miles and miles of nothing but grass. There are no trees to obstruct the view. You can see the storm clouds brewing far far away and know they will never touch you. In Michigan there are trees everywhere and you can't see the sun rise and set unless you are on the open water.

This is where Tim's family lived since he was fifteen. Before that they lived in Chicago's south side where his uncle who worked for the health department got him a job at MacDonalds when he was 14. Tim and his four brothers always had jobs starting out with newspaper routes when they were 10. Then in 1971 'white flight' moved them to Grand Rapids, Michigan. They were the second to last white family to leave the neighborhood and very disappointed with the change of lifestyle. They loved the city buses and the busy-ness of life in the city. Grand Rapids didn't even have a baseball team!

Summers brought him to northern Minnesota where he worked at Story Book Bible Camp and that is where we met.

Art School #1: This Is What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

Why do I want to create? What makes me want to do this? It is something that was always of great interest to me; always wanting to make something out of my thoughts and to express my feelings without talking. Maybe that is the only reason that I had this need to express myself this way.

I remember 3 things in Kindergarten: coloring, drawing and story time. Story time was only good if the teacher held the book up high so we could all see the pictures.

First grade was especially fun about twice that year when Mrs. Kennedy passed out the big white papers. Then she walked up and down each row and spooned a big dollup of bright blue goo right in the middle of the paper.

The goo felt oozy and cold and I wanted to squeeze it but I was not sure if that would be a good idea. I did it anyway and then began to dream as I swirled and pressed and slid my fingers across the page. The paper wasn’t white anymore and I wasn’t sure what I was doing but this stuff was something that could be moved and changed.

Soon there was blue everywhere and finger painting was something that I liked, I loved! Too soon Mrs. Kennedy came by my desk and made me stop. Art class was over.

But my inspiration wasn't over. This was the beginning of my career. Now I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I would be a teacher and teach finger painting every day!