FARGO — Visit any medical facility or clinic and you are sure to be greeted promptly by a series of the same questions.

There’s a marching order to how visitors and staff go about their days as facilities continue the work of health care during the age of the coronavirus.

"Have you had any symptoms, or were you in contact with anyone who is positive?" the medical screeners might ask.

But hidden in the monotony of these pandemic precautions, there’s a glimpse of color and hope.

On display in the atrium of Essentia Health's clinic at 1702 S. University Drive in Fargo, the Little Art Exhibition from Fargo Moorhead Visual Artists connects the two very different worlds of medicine and art.

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“Andromeda” by Dennis Krull (left) hangs next to the title placard for the Little Art Exhibition inside Essentia Health in Fargo. Photo by Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership
“Andromeda” by Dennis Krull (left) hangs next to the title placard for the Little Art Exhibition inside Essentia Health in Fargo. Photo by Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership

As a retired nurse and avid artist, Judi Koehmstedt embodies this crossover in several ways, and was even laid up in the hospital recently for a hip replacement surgery.

“They had me sitting on the edge of the bed two hours after I got back to my room,” says the lively 82-year-old about her speedy recovery.

The next morning, Koehmstedt was on her feet with the help of a walker.

“They don't let you dilly-dally like they did in the old days when I was a nurse,” adds Koehmstedt, who worked a majority of her professional career in the field.

Fargo-based artist Judi Koehmstedt as seen in 2019 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead during her solo showing of paintings. Special to The Forum
Fargo-based artist Judi Koehmstedt as seen in 2019 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead during her solo showing of paintings. Special to The Forum

Originally from Langdon, N.D., Koehmstedt started her career fresh out of college as a night nurse at Eventide while simultaneously raising four children.

“I’d go to ballgames with my uniform in a paper sack and then get dropped off at the nursing home after the game,” Koehmstedt says.

Now in her later years, Koehmstedt has shifted her focus back to an interest that traces back to her childhood.

“I always drew the comics, 'Dick Tracy' and 'Brenda Starr,' when I was quite young,” Koehmstedt says about her formative experiences with art.

“Then when I went to high school, there were no (art) opportunities at that time. I picked up nursing because it sounded like it would be OK. it was either that or teaching — this was 1955.”

In her last year at school, the soon-to-be nurse was laid up for a year due to a serious car accident.

“Vigilant” by Scot Seiler. Photo by Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership
“Vigilant” by Scot Seiler. Photo by Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership

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Artist Elizabeth Schwankl works with aluminum to create natural life, like this piece, titled “Cardinal.” Photo by Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership
Artist Elizabeth Schwankl works with aluminum to create natural life, like this piece, titled “Cardinal.” Photo by Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership

After the lengthy healing process, she moved to Los Angeles for a short period until her boyfriend at the time, Carl, came down to ask her to marry him. The couple eventually moved from their hometown of Langdon to Barnesville, Minn., and then to Fargo, where Koehmstedt is actively involved in the arts community.

With experience painting in various forms, she’s been a member of the Red River Watercolor Society for more than 30 years, and her work can be found on display at Gallery 4 in downtown Fargo.

"It took me a long time to catch onto watercolor, because I did oils way back in the '80s," she says, "and watercolor was almost the opposite of oils because you have to leave the whites and the paper was precious."

An avid learner, the nurse-turned-artist has been taking at least one workshop every year since she can remember, attending 15 consecutive years of Watercolor Society workshops — with this year being the exception.

Her piece on display in the Essentia Health atrium, titled “Support Local Art,” is focused on all her favorite things, from gardening to vases sculpted by local glass blower Jon Offutt to the omnipresent bison.

“Support Local Art” by Judi Koehmstedt. Photo by Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership
“Support Local Art” by Judi Koehmstedt. Photo by Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership

The busy throughway inside the Essentia clinic is a high-traffic area perfect for the exhibition, with artwork hanging just above the tables, properly spaced for social distancing.

The FMVA Little Art Exhibition will be on display until April 30 inside Essentia Health’s atrium, 1702 S. University Drive, in Fargo.

“Robyn” by Dirk Eidsmoe. Photo by Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership
“Robyn” by Dirk Eidsmoe. Photo by Ethan Mickelson / The Arts Partnership

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