Project of peace on display at museumPublished 6:00am Sunday, November 7, 2010 Updated 4:22pm Saturday, November 6, 2010
About two years ago, a Twin Cities-based artist and freelance photographer with a journalism background was feeling unsettled.
“It happened around the time of the last election cycle,” said John Noltner, 43. “I found myself a little concerned with the tone of the conversation we were having in this country. I felt like the rhetoric was getting pretty extreme on both sides, and I was interested in finding a way to have a more moderate conversation.”
That interest, as well as a general sense of restlessness and more free time opening up due to the economic downturn, led Noltner to create “A Peace of My Mind,” an exhibit of 52 panels of portrait photographs (plus an artist’s statement) in which the subject of the photograph is interviewed about his or her idea of peace and how to attain it. The exhibit, which debuted on Friday, is on display at the Otter Tail County Historical Museum through Dec. 17.
Noltner, whose display at the museum is being funded by a Legacy Grant, said that the beauty of his exhibit lies in its diversity, from the different races to the different life backgrounds to the different backdrops of the photographs and especially to the subjects’ different ideas of peace.
“For some people that might be political peace, for others that might be spiritual peace, or maybe an inner peace,” he explained. “Really, I tried not to direct that too much. I wanted a person’s individual ideas to come across, because really I think that peace is a pretty nebulous and intangible thing.”
In some ways, Noltner said, that can be a detriment; he believes that the word “peace” now carries with it some more liberally-charged connotations. In part, he hopes that his exhibit can do something to dispel that.
“Really to me, peace isn’t a Republican issue or a Democratic issue,” he said. “It’s sort of a human issue.”
Each panel contains a black-and-white portrait of a person who Noltner interviewed during the approximately one-year span he was compiling the project. Above each person’s photo is his or her name and a brief biographical sketch. Below the photo is an excerpt from the person’s interview. The full interviews are available online, and they will be played over the museum’s speakers in the two rooms housing the exhibit.
Though the photographs and interviews all took place in or around the Twin Cities, Noltner managed to bring quite a number of viewpoints to the table. While many metropolitan residents or acquaintances of Noltner are represented in the photos, he also interviewed college students in the area, people who were just passing through or people with different viewpoints who he sought out specifically for the project.
“Every time I would talk to somebody, they would suggest other people,” he said.
While some of his more unique interviews were people like a visiting Iraqi or the president of the Lutheran Church in the Central African Republic, one of Noltner’s favorite subjects is David Harris, a homeless man he chanced to meet on the street.
“I think we all, when we hear about a homeless man, come at it with certain preconceived notions of who that person might be or how they might see things, but when you read his quote he comes off as a very articulate, intelligent man,” Noltner explained. “I think it sort of challenges our preconceived notions of what a homeless person is.”
In the end, Noltner said, challenging attitudes of exclusivity is in large part what “A Peace of My Mind” is all about.
“I think the value in the collection is that we’ve got everything from oil company executives to homeless people and everything in between,” he said. “Each of us by ourselves, I think, doesn’t have all of the answers to life’s problems, but I think collectively it really turns into an interesting human fabric and turns into a wealth of knowledge.”
People can visit the display by purchasing a ticket to the museum. Tickets are $4 for adults, $1 for kids, and kids five and under get in free. For more information, call the Otter Tail County Historical Museum at 736-6038.
The museum will also be hosting a series of “Coffee Klatches” at 10 a.m. on the Fridays of Nov. 19 and Dec. 3, 10 and 17. Each gathering will feature a talk by a local person dedicated to achieving peace in Otter Tail County. The speakers are the Rev. Bob Worner, Stephanie Sanderson, Mona Bittenbender, the Rev. Stan Satre and Colonel Tim Hunt, respectively.
For more information about Noltner’s work, check out his website at www.noltner.com.