Backus Community Center

Five artists, storytellers and performers will bring an evening of stories, songs and laughs directly from Mallard Island to Backus Community Center on Aug. 30.

The performers don’t know exactly what they will be performing yet, but they plan to put together a show while reflecting on Mallard Island the week prior to the performance.

Mallard Island on Rainy Lake was the former home of environmentalist Ernest Oberholtzer, and is now maintained by the Oberholtzer Foundation as a “living museum,” and a place where artists, writers and researchers can spend time reflecting and working on projects.

The group of performers for the Saturday show consists of storyteller Kevin Kling, songmaker Claudia Schmidt, pianist Dan Chouinard, singer Prudence Johnson and storyteller Winona LaDuke.

Each performer has some sort of personal connection to Minnesota and Mallard Island.

“If I assembled a list of people I’d most like to spend time with on a Northwoods island, these folks would be at the top of it, ” Johnson said of the group.

Johnson’s relationship with Mallard Island and the Oberholtzer Foundation began 12 years ago when she went on a day trip to the island.

“It was a short trip, but long enough for me to fall in love, as many people do,” she said.

She began visiting the island as an artist, and in 2015 was given the role of summer program director, a job that allows her to spend about four weeks on the island each summer.

Johnson explained she, Kling, Chouinard and Schmidt have worked together in various configurations for several years. She hasn’t performed with LaDuke yet, but has known her for years.

“I have gotten to know Winona through paddling the Boundary Waters together, and on those trips, became aware of her gifts as a storyteller,” she said.

Why is this unique event coming to the Falls?

“Mallard Island serves as a retreat for artists of all kinds who come for the quiet and seclusion, the chance to shut out the outside world and focus on their work. It is possible to come there and never interact with the surrounding community at all, but the Oberholtzer community is a part of the larger community. We rely on (the people of International Falls) in many ways, and it felt to me like time to reach out and give back,” Johnson explained.

The Backus Community Center is a perfect venue for a show like this, Johnson said, and she has been talking about collaborating with Backus Director Ward Merrill for several years. “The stars aligned this year,” she said.

Johnson said audience members can, “expect to laugh, a lot. Kevin is hilarious. Expect to hear one of the best piano players in the region, Dan Chouinard, who is also a talented storyteller and will surely have his accordion along.

Expect to hear some gorgeous singing and some great songs. We’ll have some surprise guests as well.”

On the night of the event, there is a reception hour prior to the show, giving visitors the opportunity to interact with the artists. A visual arts gallery will be on display for the week leading up to the performance, titled “Natural Wonders,” with paintings and photographs from Mark Grandlund, Mary Ludington and Karen McKall.

The event is a one-time show, but Johnson said, “my larger dream would be to make it an annual event.”

The performance is presented by the Oberholtzer Foundation and Backus Community Center.

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