South Dakota is home to many gems. Home to places that hold influence to domestic and international travelers; places like Mount Rushmore National Memorial and The World’s Only Corn Palace. It is home to local finds, and quirky stopping points. One thing in common between all of these places is the story to be told.
There is one place in South Dakota that I have visited in the last year that really screams, “this is South Dakota” to me. That place is the Redlin Art Center in Watertown. I was able to get back to the Redlin Art Center after not having visited for a few years. Immediately upon walking into the building you are flooded with a sense of coziness. A sense that you are really going to enjoy the time you have to spend.
The 52,000 square foot building is filled with 155 original oil paintings from Americana and wildlife artist Terry Redlin who truly has a great eye for romantic realism. Terry is considered to be one of the country’s most widely collected painters of wildlife and Americana.
I think the reason why I get an overwhelming feeling of “true South Dakota” when I walk in, is because Terry Redlin gave this beautiful art center back to South Dakota as a gift of thanks. He easily could have put this building near the Twin Cities where he went to art school. But instead, Terry, who was named America’s Most Popular Artist eight years in a row, chose South Dakota as the home to his impressive art center.
Terry’s story is unique. His interest in outdoors themes can be traced to his childhood in Watertown. He lost one of his legs in an accident at the age of 15. Shortly after, Terry was granted money by the state of South Dakota to put toward school. He made the decision to attend a notable art school in Minnesota. He worked as a commercial artist and illustrator for many years. His career as a wildlife artist did not begin until age 40. From 1977-1984, Terry was selling original oil paintings as income for his family and to support his business. In 1985, Terry’s son, Charles, convinced him to stop selling originals so that one day a museum could be built. The Redlin Art Center opened in 1997. In 2007, Terry retired from painting. This year he turned 76.
Terry’s paintings are ones that are easy to understand and easy to relate to, especially those that live in the Midwest. Walking through the galleries in the Redlin Art Center gives you an appreciation for his work as an artist, and you can see the development in the style of his work through the course of his career.
One of my favorite galleries is the “American Portrait” series which walks through what life looked like growing up in a small, classic, American town. As the series progresses, you notice subtle changes on the exterior of the house, a boy grows from childhood to college to being enrolled into military, the seasons change, and we’re reminded that freedom is never free. Terry’s inspiration to finish this series was 9/11.
The Redlin Art Center has recently begun incorporating sketches to compliment the paintings. Some of the sketches date back to Terry’s earliest days as a five year old, doodling on the back of papers at his dad’s work. Some are sketches from his later days as an artist, which when accompanying the finished piece, help the visitor understand Terry’s line from concept to completion.
The art center sits on an impressive 30 acres, known as the Terry Redlin Conservation Park; it includes both groomed grounds and natural habitat. There are 1.5 miles of walking trails outside and a gazebo for visitors to enjoy the surroundings.
It’s an overall impressive attraction that South Dakota is both proud and fortunate to have in our state.