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Artist Terry Redlin dies, was nation's top artist for nine years in a row

Rob Beer

Forum News Service

WATERTOWN, S.D. — A famed South Dakota artist died Sunday and while Terry Redlin wasn't able to put a brush to canvas since his retirement nearly a decade ago, his legacy remains strong in homes throughout the nation.

Redlin, 78, a nature and Americana artist, died in Watertown after a nine-year battle with dementia.

As Julie Ranum reflected on Redlin's life on Monday, she said unveiling a new print at the Redlin Art Center — his beautiful namesake structure along Interstate 29 — was one of her favorite moments.

"For us it was always an exciting time to add new art to the collection," said Ranum, the center's executive director. "He was so prolific. He always loved painting. In fact, before his diagnosis, I had asked him if he would ever retire, and he told me at that time, and he said, 'Julie, painting is like breathing. I can't imagine not doing it.' "

Redlin retired in 2007, 10 years after his art center opened. Ranum said Redlin's illness progressed "rather rapidly" since his retirement in 2007 and "he was just no longer able to return to painting."

From 1990 to 1999, through a poll of 500 national galleries, U.S. Art Magazine named Redlin "America's Most Popular Artist." He sold more than a half million prints.

Fargo's Underbrush Gallery has been selling Redlin's work since 1981, said business owner Barbara Wolfe.

"People relate to it. It pulls at their heartstrings. It's all family-oriented. It's more of a Midwestern feel, (reflecting) family closeness and togetherness. When you look at it you just feel the warmth in it."

Wolfe says Redlin was the Midwest answer to popular "painter of light" Thomas Kinkade or folk artist Grandma Moses.

"It's like a perfect fantasy, what you would love to see," she says.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard said Redlin was an iconic South Dakota artist.

"For many South Dakotans, Terry's work brought to life our fondest memories of our state's outdoor heritage and rural roots. He has left a legacy in Watertown and throughout the nation, and Linda and I extend our deepest sympathies to the Redlin family."

Redlin's influence is concentrated in his 52,000-square-foot art center in Watertown, which opened in 1997.

"We have welcomed millions of people throughout the art center, which is his gift back to his hometown," Ranum said. "We know that his art has touched millions. It's a terrible loss, but he has shared a great gift with all of us by leaving this incredible collection of art."

Music group Mannheim Steamroller featured one of Redlin's pieces on the cover of its 2003 CD "American Spirit."

"When it came time to decide what we should use to represent the feeling inside the jewel box on the CD, it was immediately apparent that only one great American artist, also from the Midwest, would give us the art representative of the music and the sentiment ... Terry Redlin," Chip Davis of Mannheim Steamroller said in a 2004 Forum interview.

Funeral arrangements for Redlin are pending.

John Lamb contributed to this report.