Northern Wilds Magazine
Gunflint Trail resident Nancy Seaton.
Living on the Gunflint Trail for almost 40 years has provided Nancy Seaton with an abundance of inspiration. | NANCY SEATON
Along the Shore Arts

Unifying Colors: From Watercolors to Fused Glass on the Gunflint Trail

“The fluidness of the finished piece makes you think that it’s still wiggling around when you look the other way,” glass artist Nancy Seaton explains with a smile.

Creating artwork has been a staple of Seaton’s life since she was born. After growing up in the Minneapolis area, Seaton chose to attend St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., where she furthered her knowledge and practice of art. Her Senior Show at St. Olaf was in blown glass and watercolor paintings, two mediums that have captured her attention during different times in her life.

“I focused on watercolors from 1985 to around 2010,” she says. “I began exploring my technique of watercolors on vellum paper while a student at St. Olaf College. Originally, it was an attempt to bring the transparent qualities of blown glass, a medium I was working in at the time, to paper. I paint on both sides of the vellum and on some works I used two layered sheets. This creates the unique spatial characteristics.”

The Gunflint Trail became both a source of inspiration and a livelihood for Seaton almost 40 years ago. After she met her now-husband Dave while working at Trail Center Lodge, the partners began staying year-round in this remote corner of Minnesota. Deciding this was where they wanted to be long-term, the Seatons bought Hungry Jack Outfitters, 31 miles up the Gunflint Trail out of Grand Marais, on the day of the Halloween blizzard in 1991.

From 1985 to about 2010, Seaton’s main focus was on watercolors. Now, she also creates fused glass totems mounted in Lake Superior rocks.
From 1985 to about 2010, Seaton’s main focus was on watercolors. Now, she also creates fused glass totems mounted in Lake Superior rocks. | NANCY SEATON

“My life on the Gunflint Trail has provided focus and fuel for my work as a watercolor artist. In my paintings I try to capture the joy and tranquility found while exploring the forests and intimate places of the north woods near my home at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness,” says Seaton. “The fragile beauty of wildflowers, insects and colorful berries are my favorite subjects. The intricacies of a dragonfly wing or a mouse’s view of a twinflower are typical of the perspective I try to share. Seeing the magnificent in the simple things nature provides us is a joy for me.”

Though raising two boys, volunteering for community projects, and running the outfitting business necessitated a brief hiatus from Seaton’s artwork, when her sons were in school, she was able to get back in the studio.

North Shore artist Sharon Frykman introduced Seaton to the basics of fused glass, a technique on which she focuses in the present day. The fused glass totems she creates are mounted in Lake Superior rocks, a style she had not seen used by others before doing it herself.

“Glass is fluid color. If you close your eyes and had to describe to somebody what something looked like, what the patterns were, the colors were, that defined it, that’s what I’m working with,” Seaton said.

As with most artists in the north woods, simply looking or walking outside can spark creativity and lead to pieces only possible when the natural world is your muse. She works to capture both animate and inanimate parts of her surroundings in fused glass by replicating particular colors and patterns. Birds and dragonflies have been of particular interest in recent years. When a spark of inspiration hit her upon waking up one morning, she realized how to convey a loon in totem form.

“What I like is that it’s a strong statement about a loon,” she explains. “It’s nature’s palette. You can’t really improve upon it, so copy it.”

The warm glass studio at the Grand Marais Art Colony has proved an indispensable resource for Seaton, especially during the coldest months of the year. When not working on her own pieces, Seaton has also taught others her craft as an Art Colony instructor.

“If you were to imagine a perfect place to spend your winter, that’s what this is. When you’re working, you have all of this colored glass surrounding you, it’s just perfect.”

Seaton displays her artwork from May to September at Hungry Jack Outfitters up the Gunflint Trail. She also exhibits annually at the exclusive St. Paul American Craft Show in April, the Grand Marais Art Festival in July, and Art Along the Lake in September at her home at Hungry Jack Outfitters. In May 2020 her work will also be displayed at the Warm Glass show at the Johnson Heritage Post in Grand Marais.

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