Fargo - Artist Molly McLain loves to make collages and mosaics, finding the right pieces that fit together into a larger whole.

In a way, it's also something that she's doing with her life, assembling places and formative experiences into a larger whole.

The 30-year-old Valley City, N.D., native has called New York, Pennsylvania, Montana, Minnesota and North Dakota home at some point in her life.

She received an art degree with a minor in piano pedagogy in 2005 from Valley City State University, worked on Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, and has had numerous exhibitions of her mixed-media artwork. Recently, she dipped her toe into education through a yearlong residency at the Jamestown Art Center, and currently works as a grass-roots organizer for the Fargo chapter of Planned Parenthood.

A bit of this, a bit of that, all fitting together into something bigger. It's a tendency, art-wise, that began for her at an early age.

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"I would make collages with my cousins on long road trips, cutting up old magazines," she said. "And later on, in junior high, I would make them from old suitcases."

As a working and exhibiting artist, McLain admits she used to be "timid" about showing her art. But displaying her work helped her grapple with difficult times.

"My senior show was very personal, a reflection on my mother dying of cancer," she said.

Her exhibited work has remained on the personal side, springing from her various passions.

After years of moving around, she said she was drawn back to North Dakota because of a deep-seated relationship to its land and people. And for a recent collaborative exhibition with fellow artists Jessica Christy and Sabrina Hornung, "Prairie Trifecta: Part Deux," McLain created works that displayed that connection through her concern with the state's use (and misuse) of its land.

"I'm inspired by the landscape, and I feel connected to the land. Because I have a love and obligation to it, I want to talk about it. I want to bring out the beauty of it," McLain said.

As a young artist who has lived and practiced through that connection to the state, McLain said that North Dakota is beginning to come into its own as a place where art happens.

"North Dakotans, like all people, have an appreciation for beauty and art, but I don't think it's been accessible to them," she said, noting her own lack of arts education as an elementary school student.

"But it's getting better," she adds. "In Fargo and across the state, we're getting better about having art right in our communities where people see it. It's becoming more accessible in education, too."

As McLain looks to the future, she has more bits to add to her larger whole.

She's putting the finishing touches on a commissioned planter, covered in a Celtic-inspired mosaic, in front of Dempsey's in downtown Fargo. McLain also has a solo show coming up at the Spirit Room in February ("mostly mosaics," she said). And she, Christy and Hornung are considering a third installment of "Prairie Trifecta."

While keeping herself busy, she said she'll rely on her close connection to the land and people to guide her forward.

"I know that I like to create things that make me happy, and I hope they make the world happier," she said. "I like simple beauty, and I like listening to crickets and seeing wildflowers in ditches. And I like people, too, and there are so many wonderful people in Fargo and in North Dakota."

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo, and its online publication, ARTSpulse. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net/artspulse.