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John Durfey

Framer and Restoration Artist

 I believe we are influenced by where we live. Winona, the Island City, is where bluffs line the Mississippi River on one side and two lakes on the other. Experiencing the four seasons of Minnesota has given me an appreciation of the many faces of nature, the hope of life returning in the spring, the easy and hot summer days with ample sunlight and pleasant bird songs, the smells and colors and coolness of autumn, and finally the shorter days of winter and life threatening temperatures. I grew up in Winona, MN blessed to be raised in a loving and creative family.


My father was a professional photographer and a musician, artist, furniture maker, stamp collector, and coin collector. In the 1950's and 60's, my mother helped out by hand coloring the portraits and the pictures of wedding groups. I remember as a child, literally being under the chair my mom sat in as she used her paints. To keep me occupied, she sat me down next to her and showed me how to take a small wad of cotton and wind it around a pointed wooden stick which she had wetted by twirling it around in her mouth. She would place an old photo in front of me and demonstrated how to dip the cotton in the oil paint and use a soft circular motion to apply the color to the photo. I was fascinated by the work and can still remember the wrinkled tubes of paint in her green tackle box.


I was hooked. Dad bought out a frame shop and taught me how to cut mats, glass, and how to build the frames. He had a complete wood working shop and enjoyed teaching me how to work with wood. He also stretched canvases and sold paints and brushes to the college students. I attended Winona State College, now Winona State University for a year. During this time I worked for Conway Universal Studios of Stained Glass in Winona, which is considered the stained glass capitol of America. I fell in love with glass and learned how to build a window. They even allowed me to design a few windows for them, lets call it a paid internship. 


Four years later I graduated with a BFA in painting which led to my teaching at the Minnesota Center of Arts and Education in Minnetonka, MN. During that time I also opened a picture frame shop. I became too busy, and decided it was too much, so I closed shop!


 I was  chosen as the restoration artist for the Historic Paramount Theatre in Austin, MN. Over the span of 2 1/2 years I restored the theatre with the help of Lois, my wife, who coordinated the work of the volunteers, and my daughter, Becky, who stenciled many designs. Originally built in 1929 as a silent movie house, it was decorated inside to resemble a Spanish courtyard. It was an atmospheric theatre which meant that clouds were projected across the ceiling and lights for stars added to the outdoor effect. The theatre closed in 1979 and later opened as a comedy club and even a bar. Each change meant a new color scheme. Even in 1943 the whole Spanish/Moorish motif was changed to a Normandy style. Obviously there were many layers of paint to remove.


I received a Jerome Foundation grant to visit other atmospheric theatres in the Southwest to look for missing plaster designs that we could use. A Blandin Foundation grant allowed the local high school art students to come by once a week so they could learn about the process of uncovering the original stencil designs and colors. I received a Valspar " Picture it Painted " grant which provided many gallons of paint and glazing liquid. Dozens of stencils were made and colors mixed. Everything was labeled and documented. The theatre now shows movies, plays, concerts, and even hosts weddings. In some ways that experience has influenced me in some of my most recent works. Looking not just at the surface colors and designs, but also looking through and past them. I also developed more of an appreciation for the artisans of the past.


In my most recent work, I have started to use triangles in my compositions. A triangle has an energy and dynamic that works for me. It helps lead the eye through a painting and sometimes giving solidity, pause, and rest. Twelve years ago we moved back to the house that I grew up in. I discovered it has many triangles in its structure. I decided that mirrors would look interesting on our house, so I attached them to the ends of our lookouts under our eaves and a few on the upper portions of the house. Some highlight the triangular roof line that is over our front steps. Today, I own a custom picture framing business in our home. I have restored old paintings for private families as well as for the City of Winona, Winona State University, Merchants Bank, and the Winona County Historical Center.


Recently I found a box of my father's gold leaf. It is only one inch high which at one time contained 10,000 leafs 6.25" x 6.25". I took the box to a local jeweler and he thought the gold leaf was either 23K or 24K. I decided it was 24K and then experimented with the gold to incorporate it with oil and acrylic paints.  The gold adds another element to look at. Not only is it a color, but also a reflective surface that is not always noticeable. Many artists and artisans have enjoyed using gold leaf for many reasons. For me, it's elegant, surprising and beautiful.

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