Collecting North Dakota’s beauty

mykuhls tree storm

ND Tree and Storm for art show display

  I love displaying North Dakota in ways others have not seen the state.  That’s why I relish opportunities such as the Blue Collar Cafe Open House and Art Show this week.  If you attend, you’ll see North Dakota displayed several ways.  Most obviously will be the images you will see such as the tree and storm clouds pictured above.  The image of course is a prairie vista ahead of a storm, typical of a spring day in the state.  That’s North Dakota.

Surrounding the image is more North Dakota — the barn board frame. I was fortunate enough to get good solid siding from a barn that was torn down. The siding is in good shape and I use it to make frames.  It’s North Dakota.

That barn also supplied wood for the image below of a farm house in a stubble field.  I shot this near Rugby and again, North Dakotans will see something that reminds them of their state: stubble field, horizon, storm clouds and huge house sitting empty.  That’s North Dakota.

mykuhls farm house wtrmrk

Then there are a select few people who will recognize the bottom image as also being North Dakota.  Those select people are bikes.  They know the state for its  smooth roads, little traffic, wide open vistas make for great rides in the state.  It’s North Dakota.

mykuhls print bikers on hwy and skyThese three images are part of the collection of North Dakota that I’ll be displaying at the Blue Collar Cafe Art Show.  It’s a little North Dakota Internet Coffeehouse run by North Dakotans, in North Dakota’s capital city, across the street from the big North Dakota Department of Transportation district offices.

North Dakota images. North Dakota barn board. Assembled by a North Dakotan.  Shown in a North Dakota venue. Even the images themselves were produced and processed by a North Dakota lab.  The Blue Collar Cafe Open House and Art Show is Tuesday, February 12.

That’s North Dakota.

Blue Collar Black Friday Art Show


Late nights meant burning the midnight oil — and wood — to get frames ready for the show.

What a surprising opportunity!

It’s crunch time producing exclusive handmade frames to go with matted photos for the Blue Collar Black Friday Art Show.  North Dakota barn board, North Dakota images, North Dakota art — I’m fortunate to be one-quarter of the show at the little coffee shop and cafe on the east side of Bismarck.

It’s a win-win-win.  The Blue Collar Cafe gets more traffic, four artists get more exposure and Black Friday shoppers get original handmade art at ridiculously low prices.  If the same products were in Macy’s or Daytons, they’d be hundreds of dollars.  But here, only tens of dollars.

I visited with Jerod Hawk earlier this week when the idea was kicked about.  Within an hour Hawk had lined up four artists to set up on Friday at his little coffee shop and cafe. That was Tuesday. Now here it is Thursday and we’re almost ready to throw open the doors to throngs of people who want a piece of North Dakota.

Since the idea first took hold,  I’ve been keeping the wood fires burning in my wood shop making frames.  .  As it is, I have mass-produced hand-made frames for an inventory, but not as many as I would have liked for this little show.


The abandoned Pettibone Elevator at Lake Williams is one of my favorite pieces that will be on display at the Blue Collar Cafe art show on Friday.


From near Rugby, this abandoned farmstead is wrapped in a barn board frame from a barn near Good Rich.

Tuesday and Wednesday I started the work of matching photos I had on hand to the frames I thought would work.  I think I went about it backwards. I first should have selected the prints, then built the frames to fit.


Color looks good in the barn board frame from a 100-year old barn near Goodrich on the left, and in a frame from a 100-year old barn that once stood near Almont

Either way, it was crunch time. I turned my kitchen in to a matting and framing shop.  I brought in all the frames I thought would work from my wood shop.  Then I started matching prints to frames.

A couple of quick trips to Bismarck and I bought a few pieces of glass and some mat board.  I would have liked more, but time was running out.    Wednesday I put in some 12 hours framing and matting. Sadly I got in to so much of a rush I ended up damaging three prints and throwing them in to the trash.  A couple of my larger print were damaged and so will only be on display as examples, but not for sale. They’re not “perfect.”  Mats were crooked, images warped.  *groan*


Wilton’s Soo Line Depot, also 100 years old (1910) is framed in 100-year-old wood from a barn near Goodrich.

So, here it is Thanksgiving days.  Just as the other three artists and Hawk are doing, we’re dedicating a portion of the day to getting ready for the Blue Collar Black Friday Art Show.  It’s a first, so we don’t know what to expect, how much room we have or how many people show up.


Grain bins from near Regan in barn board from a 100-year old barn near Almont will be at the Blue Collar Black Friday Art Show.

Here’s your invitation to joins us. 135 Airport Road, Bismarck, just across the RR tracks from Krolls Diner, one block south of Main Street in East Bismarck.

Come on down!

June 25

Burleigh County gravel road

Yes, I may be prejudiced, but I see North Dakota’s beauty everywhere.   It’s easiest to see later in the day when the sun and the shadows play against the rolling variegated colors of the landscape.

I didn’t always see it that way. I was bored with the vision of the state. Than a gifted photographer from Minneapolis (Images by Irene) would visit me from time to time and rave about the natural beauty of the state in contrast to the cement, steel and glass of her local environment.  And you know what, she’s right.

I now see the state in contrast to what most of the world’s population has to see, the clutter and cluster of humanity in cities around the world.  That merely adds to the romantic feeling I’ve developed for North Dakota’s purity and calmness.

On this particular Sunday afternoon, I was in eastern Burleigh County as the sun started its descent. The light softened a bit from the harsh mid-day brightness and the colors and contrast of the region became apparent.Within about an hour, all in the same neighborhood, I captured these images and more within about a 4 mile area of the rolling plains of the east river North Dakota.  Like Irene said, “You’ve got a beautiful and cooperative model there, Mike.”  What do you see when you look out your window around your neighborhood?

June 5

Field of wind

I love the contrast of North Dakota’s peaceful prairies, the clouds and the power of those giant wind turbines.  On this day, the passing storm clouds provided a good backdrop for an impressive view of the state’s two most consumer-needed commodities, food and energy.

It was one of those picture-perfect days, perfect for taking pictures, such of this pairing of old and new.  The two wind turbines, the two transmission towers and the two abandoned farm buildings.  I’ll bet you can imagine your own story to go with this photo of  a family that grew up on that farm and had no idea that anything more than small grains would be harvested, certainly not the wind.

When once upon a time, North Dakota’s landscape was dotted with water pumping windmills, those have been replaced with more efficient systems to bring water up from down below. In the place of those old windmills are wind farms, hundreds of wind turbines towering above the prairie.

April 29

Like an old rancher whose lines and creases in his face are etched with stories and history, so too are the old farm houses that dot North Dakota’s landscape.  This old building tells a story of an original home for a family that grew and needed a larger home.  If you look closely inside, you can see the stairs leading up to what must have been bedrooms.The foundation may not have been what it should have been at the add-on point and so the boards push together at that seam.  The chimney though is strong and straight, a contrast to the old building.

I shot this image north and east of Wilton. I’m not sure I could even find it again.

The texture of the green grass, the lavender sunset and the wind-softened wood create an attractive contrast.

March 31

North Dakota is warming up. Finally.  There is still a bit of snow on east-facing slopes, but the ice is off of the sloughs and ponds. The wind is light and the sunset reflection in the water is a scene I’ve not seen in months.

I was out driving the back roads of Sheridan County when I saw what was going to be a perfect reflection in the water.  I actually drove past the potential scene, backed up and then waited.  I was rewarded by the still waters and the duo-images of the clouds and the colors of the evening.

Earlier, I had photographed the abandoned farm house on the hill and it’s reflection in the nearby pond.  So, I already had in mind the potential for reflection of the sunset and was not disappointed.

The humor of the day, however, came from two pairs of geese who apparently did not have the same idea about sharing.  One pair apparently encroached in to the home turf and perhaps the nest and eggs of the first pair.  There was a bit of a turf battle as the two pairs their territorial differences.  Who said the Northern Plains are peaceful, pastoral and quiet?  I guess they weren’t a trespassing and feuding pair of geese.

February 16

It used to be "home"

North Dakota is dotted with history, the old days of farming when farming was much more labor intensive and so farms were smaller.  Smaller farms meant more farmers in the great state.  Everywhere you find what once was someone’s home, including this one, not far from Glen Ullin.  In the summer, it is surrounded by sunflowers or small grain crops.  In the winter, it is a snow catcher.

Just a few yards from what some family called home, decades ago is the remnant of what it took to make a life on the prairie — water.  My guess is it was very salty, alkaline water, but it is what gave life to the prairie family.  The water remains, though the family is gone.

Pump and water tank

January 28

Straight plumes of steam over the Coal Creek power plant

January is mind-numbing cold in North Dakota.  The prairie looks like an ocean. The sun glows yellow as it sets, and on a windless day, the steam created by the warm moist air of the power plant turns in to a thick cloud.  The Coal Creek power plant near Underwood North Dakota stood bright as a silhouette.  I spied it as I was driving through northern McLean county, looking for images that will show you how North Dakota looks on this date.  Earlier in the day, shots were easier to find.

This abandoned farm house stood lonely under the full moon. This is a blue moon, they say as it is the second full moon of the month.  But it was also a very cold blue moon.  Imagine what it would take to get to the farm house when the lane is plugged with windswept crusty snow.

Even in the cold, there is beauty.  The snow is blue, the streaks are a variegated contrast of blue and gold.  And the full moon sits poised over the trees and old abandoned buildings of McLean County.