GRANITE FALLS - More than a decade ago, Granite Falls artist Brad Hall bought an old church building for $1 and made it into his home studio.
This year Hall is pushing himself more as an artist, thanks to some statewide recognition on Minnesota Public Radio and a recent grant from the Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council.
Hall lived in Chicago for 23 years before he came back to his hometown more than 10 years ago. Hall's home studio in Granite Falls once housed the town library and senior center. It was built in 1889 as the Trinity Episcopalian Church.
In the studio that he remodeled, Hall makes linoleum block prints, something he started in 2004. Block prints also turned into a project he started with Andy Kahmer, a friend of his from Montevideo.
"He was looking for an artist and I was looking for something to do," Hall said. "We started collaboratively doing a calendar together."
The calendar became "Portraits of the Prairie," which Hall sells during the Arts Meander, the Upper Minnesota River Art Crawl.
"We're working on the fifth year," Hall said.
Hall also carved the blocks for the first Meander poster more than eight years ago.
"The calendar is doing fantastic and I almost sell out of it," he said.
Hall starts his block by doing a pen and ink on the block itself and then carving away everything that doesn't have ink on it.
"After the prints are printed on paper, some of them I add watercolor for prints, some of them I turn into greeting cards,"?he said. "I'm starting something new this summer, framing the watercolored prints."
Hall goes around southwest Minnesota, mainly Yellow Medicine and Chippewa counties to get photographs of the places he'll carve into the linoleum blocks to make the calendars. Sometimes he'll venture into South Dakota, he said.
"My Nikon (camera) and I are best friends," Hall said. "I take a lot of photos. There's a lot of beautiful stuff around here."
When he works on his "Portraits of the Prairie" calendar, Hall said it's kind of weird painting and carving winter scenes in the middle of July.
Hall said the transition to linoleum block prints was easy.
"It went well for me because I love to do pen and ink," Hall said. Now he hand-watercolors the linoleum block prints as well.
Making a linoleum block can take a couple hours up to a couple of weeks, Hall said.
"Sometimes they carve themselves, sometimes I can't carve one to save my life," he said.
Earlier this year, Hall was interviewed by Jennifer Vogel of Minnesota Public Radio as she did a story on the rising arts economy in the southwest prairie.
"That was pretty amazing," he said.
That led to an interview with KSTP. Hall said that 2012 has been a big jump for him.
"I'm getting out of my safety zone," he said. Hall said he's going to do more shows this year, including one in September at the KK Berge building in Granite Falls and the art show in New London in August.
Hall said the arts scene in the Granite Falls area is "kind of starting to snowball" with the annual Meander and the re-opening and revitalization of the KK Berge building, which has monthly art exhibits.
Hall recently received a Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council's Developing Artist grant. It's three parts, he said - framing artwork, building a frame shop in the basement of his studio and his gallery showing in September. To build frames, Hall has used pine barnwood that he painted with flat black paint.
Hall uses his computer a lot with his artwork, especially with the photos he takes for the linoleum block prints. He turns the photos into black and white, crops them and makes them fit to what he wants.
"It gives me a jump start to know what it will look like," he said.
Hall is also designing the new logo for the Granite Falls Chamber of Commerce.
Hall would like to make his art full time, but it's been difficult. He had quit a graphic design job "too soon," and literally became a "starving artist," he said. He now works at a group home.
Hall is a member of the Granite Arts Council and says that he's glad to stay in the town he grew up.
"It's a beautiful area, the river, the valley and creeks," Hall said. He said there's nothing better than getting his camera, going out in his truck and going up and down country roads.