Rochester Women
November/December 2007
Women Communications, L.L.C.

Marie Marvin Inspires Creators at Crossings, an Eclectic Zumbrota Art Gallery

by Ellington Miller Bandel
Photography by Fagan Studios

I remember sitting as a 16-year-old in my high school chemistry class, worrying about all the things teens worry about," says Marie Marvin, recalling the pressures of adolescent life. "I remember thinking 'I can't wait until I'm in my mid-40s when things are calm.' I thought I would get to this plateau, and I wouldn't have any more problems; I couldn't wait until that day came."

When she reached that magic milestone, Marvin bought the 94-year-old Zumbrota Carnegie Library building and transformed it into an art gallery. She opened the doors of Crossings at Carnegie in 2001.

Where her adolescent self had imagined a 40-something Marie sipping on umbrella-covered drinks, the real mid-life Marie is working 14-hour days in what has become the treasure of Zumbrota. Though life is not as simple as she imagined long ago, says Marvin, "it's the first time in my life that I've felt like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing."

Hub of Regional Art

Walking into Crossings is like entering a vibrant playground of creation: watercolors and oil paintings, glossy photographs, glazed pots, glass vases, wooden bowls, star lights, flamboyant kites, paper lamps, beaded coin purses, silk scarves, artful jewelry and felted figurines surround visitors. Color bursts from the room like leaves on an autumn tree.

The main exhibit space changes monthly to showcase new artists, ensuring an ever-varied display. It is not only a gallery but a working classroom for art of all types, writing, bodywork like yoga and Pilates, music lessons, kids' camps and even Spanish. Offering classes and weekly concerts is Marvin's surreptitious way to expose people to art. "Goodness, we've even had dog obedience classes. I would do just about anything to bring people in to see art."

About a year after she opened Crossings, Marvin created a clay studio in the lower level, complete with a kiln. Ongoing classes teach students how to "throw" pots on a wheel. And members can sell their work upstairs in the gallery.

Color surrounds shoppers at Crossings and creates a warm space for viewing art.


Serendipitous Beginning

Marvin, a Zumbrota native, began in the art business by publishing her sister's artwork on note cards and t-shirts. Though she wanted to represent more artists, she had no intentions of starting this gallery. "I just happened to be talking to the owner of the building one day, and she mentioned she was going to be selling it. I love the building. It was my library as a youngster and my children's library when they were growing up." Minutes later, Marvin called her good friend, Rolf, and asked, "How'd you like to buy the old Carnegie Library building with me?" He agreed.

Six years later, Marvin is steeped in the place, and though she has hired a small staff to handle publicity, she functions as a one-woman engine. Any given day could find her contacting artists, class instructors, or musicians and their managers, ordering gift shop items, paying bills, weeding the garden, setting up class tables or starting the pottery kiln. The phone rings almost constantly—a welcome sound of growth.

Being the Midwife

Though her name is synonymous with Crossings, Marvin doesn't want all the credit for it. "Things that happen here aren't necessarily coming from inside of me. I just help deliver them, like a midwife." She is an eyewitness to the creation that passes through and happens at Crossings.

"One of my favorite parts of this job is when I sell a piece of original art. Less people buy original art these days, and it's a thrill to be able to validate an artist's life."

Marvin stresses that the space is for artists of all types. "I want this place to be accessible. I struggle to bring in scholarship money—I want everybody to come and participate." When people are creating together, she says, something magical happens. "There's so little community in our world these days. Everybody's hanging out with the same people. They're all inside their houses. This is the kind of place where community can happen."

Indeed, community is inevitable in the types of exhibits she designs. In the annual Poet-Artist Collaboration and Poetography exhibits, a poem inspires a work of art or is inspired by a photograph. Collaborations happen anonymously, and the creators don't know the outcome until the show is on display in the gallery. It's a sort of "blind date" for participants, and the exhibits draw entries from across Minnesota.

Marvin relies on that same community when others are in need. After the summer flood devastated southeast Minnesota, national folk singer Ann Reed contacted her with the idea for a benefit concert. Marvin didn't think about the 85 to-do items already on her list. "It's my job is to listen to people, take ideas and manifest them," she says. "When somebody e-mails me and says 'what about,' or 'have you ever,' or 'should we,' or 'could we'—I listen."

Plus, she chuckles, she has a funny ability to underestimate the work involved in major projects. "I could make a difference in five minutes," she says, guessing the time it would take to send an e-mail to a handful of musicians. "I forgot it [the flood relief concert planning] would take two weeks," she laughs. The concert raised more than $5,000 and Marvin did make a difference.

Marie Marvin loads the kiln in the Crossings clay studio, which offers ongoing classes and memberships to anyone interested.

Nurturing Art in All

"Another wonderful aspect of the job is when somebody tells me the space made a difference in their life," says Marvin. "We've had writers and artists get their first commissions because we were here. We've had several first shows for artists who've never had an exhibit before. [Crossings] is a petrie dish for them. We let what they have inside grow."

When visitors walk through the door and insist that they're not artists, Marvin challenges them. "Were you ever a kid?" she asks. "Every kid has a world of creation inside themselves, and we still have that kid waiting to come out."

"A palm reader told me once my two lines are sales and healing," says Marvin. "I do some of each of that in this space."

Coming Full Circle

Marvin says the best part of being in Zumbrota is living and working only blocks from her parents, Conway and Avonne Marvin, who are 83 and 86. They taught her about bringing people together.

"Everything I'm doing here I owe to their community spirit," she says. "I've got them to thank for my life and this space. I don't know if anyone thought I'd be able to pull this off in a Midwestern town."

Marvin has two children of her own. Her son, Jacob, lives in Rochester, and her daughter, Nicole, lives in Phoenix with a husband and two children. When Marvin does take a vacation, it involves a trip to see her grandchildren.

Crossings remains her passion. Marvin remembers walking up to the building one day and thinking I accomplished something.' "It was the first time I've felt like that. That's why it's so important to me that the spirit of Crossings continue. Because if we've touched hundreds of lives, we could touch thousands."

Ellington Miller Bandel is editor of Rochester 'Women magazine and part-time employee at Crossings. She enjoys both immensely.

Carnegie Library, early 1900s.

Century-old Building

The Carnegie Library building in Zumbrota was built in 1906 (completed in 1908) with a $6,500 grant from Andrew Carnegie, who helped build 2,509 libraries in the U.S. and other countries. Receiving no response from Carnegie after their first request, the city sent another with a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

Zumbrota's Carnegie Library was the smallest in the state and also the first tax-supported library in Minnesota. Miss Hattie Marvin, Marie Marvin's great aunt, was the first librarian.

The city hall fire (next door) on May 7, 1924 caused $2,250 in damage to the library. As a result the city installed a vault in the lower level. The vault door is still in tact.

When a new, larger library was built in 1995, a private party purchased the building as a shop for crafts, antiques and quilts until Marie Marvin and Rolf Ylvisaker purchased it in 2001.

Inside, the frames of the old bookcases serve as display "cases" for Crossings' art exhibits. Many of the features of the building are original, including the front door, interior five-panel doors and doorknobs.

"Something is making this space work," says Marvin. "I try to listen and work hard, but it's a very special space." Perhaps it's built on hallowed ground, or maybe the sense of community established itself through the library era, she guesses.

"Even if Crossings wasn't here, this building would be special. I think that's helped keep things alive."

Crossings at Carnegie, celebrating 100 years.

Immeasurable Impact

Marie is one of those rare gems who gets "community" in the best sense of the word. The presentation of my work was more than just a gallery thing; it was part of Marie's holistic vision to bring together visual arts, music, craft, education and cultural exchange. She has created a sparkling little arts oasis in rural Minnesota whose impact is immeasurable.
—Kristi Larsen, Minneapolis artist and Zumbrota native.

Marie has brought the community opportunities to experience the arts as an observer or participant, amateur or professional. Marie was instrumental in giving me the chance to have my first solo art exhibit. With her encouragement and the classes I've taken through Crossings, I have gone on to show my work in several other venues.
—Leisa Luis-Grill, Rochester artist

Marie's encouragement has been a blessing to me. Her gallery provides me with a space to exhibit, a place to take classes and expand my experiences, and the opportunity to meet other artists.
—Carole Kinion Copeland, who exhibited a painting for three months at the Bell Museum of Natural History after showing it at Crossings

The charm of the setting and the interest and devotion of the students makes teaching at this lovely place a joy. Crossings is a Zumbrota gem.
—Alison McGhee, author, Pulitzer Prize nominee, and Crossings writing instructor

Why would I want to live anywhere else? Crossings keeps art before my eyes and in my soul.
—Kitty Burbo, Zumbrota resident

Thanks to Marie for giving so many people the incentive to be creative, the recognition for our poetry and art, and the opportunity to meet people with like interests. Crossings has elevated the quality of life for people in SE Minnesota by providing cultural oppor­tunities that many people can't get outside the Twin Cities.
—Robin Taylor, poet participant in the Poet Artist Collaboration

No matter what we do for a living or what troubles we have, we are all in the gracious and supportive arms of our art when we are at Crossings.
—James Henderson, poet participant in the Poet Artist Collaboration