Blue Door Gallery hosts tribute exhibit of deceased Grand Forks artist
Found on pants, purses and sleeping bags, most people don't think much of zippers; however, one artist spent her life turning these everyday items into beautiful pieces of art. Donna Petrell, a Grand Forks native, died Oct. 6, 2012, in Hudson, Wi...
Found on pants, purses and sleeping bags, most people don't think much of zippers; however, one artist spent her life turning these everyday items into beautiful pieces of art. Donna Petrell, a Grand Forks native, died Oct. 6, 2012, in Hudson, Wis., yet her colorful zipper work lives on.
From noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, the Blue Door Gallery in downtown Grand Forks will hold a tribute exhibit of Petrell's artwork. The exhibit will include 30 to 35 of Petrell's one-of-a-kind zipper work pieces.
"It's exciting but a shame that she had to pass for us to know about her work," said Matt Borgerson, a member of the Blue Door Gallery.
Petrell grew up in Grand Forks. She graduated from Central High School in 1945 and attended UND for nursing. Finishing school in Duluth, Petrell spent the majority of her life living in North Dakota and Minnesota. She later retired in Show Low, Ariz., where she began zipper work.
Now, her daughter, Janet Petrell, of Hudson, is bringing her mother's body, along with her artwork, back to Grand Forks.
"It's the first time that Grand Forks gets to see her art," Janet said. "It will be amazing for me (and) for her friends to see what she did at the end of her life."
The art Donna created is unlike anything the area has seen. Aside from Petrell's work, Borgerson said he has seen only one art piece that used zippers.
"I think (Donna's art) is a really interesting use of nontraditional media."
The story behind the art
"It all started with me," Janet said.
In 1980, Janet brought a 4-H art project home that sparked her mom's interest. It was a painted landscape with zippers added for texture.
Donna took ideas from her daughter's 4-H instruction book and began creating her own art.
As a seamstress, Donna acquired plenty of zippers, which she quickly put to use. Repurposing old items wasn't a new concept for her -- it was a life skill she learned during the Great Depression.
Donna used zippers -- donated by seamstresses, alterations workers and other collectors -- to create beautiful floral scenes, country landscapes and even animals.
After removing the fabric, she would glue the zippers to a piece of canvas. She used anywhere from 50 to 800 zippers per piece and created more than 500 pieces in her lifetime.
"She just did it for enjoyment," Janet said. "I was the proud daughter, so I wanted everyone to see it."
Janet traveled across the United States with her mom, attending art shows and art fairs in Oregon, Washington and Tennessee.
"They called her the grandma Moses of zipper art," Janet said. "Everyone who encountered her at these events enjoyed her creativity and enthusiasm for zippers."
Donna worked on her art everyday of her retirement. Janet said she believes the work let her mom live longer.
Now that Donna has passed away, the artwork has come full circle.
"I have a ton of zippers that people donated," Janet said. "So, I'm continuing with it."
Maki covers Arts & Entertainment and Life & Style for the Herald and can be reached at (701) 780-1122 or email@example.com .