Terry Lundahl wasn’t an artist. Now her art will be on TV

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STURGEON BAY – How could a new, local artist get one of her paintings purchased for a new TV series?

In Terry Lundahl’s case, it took:

  • Losing a longtime job because of the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Worrying about possibly losing her husband of more than 40 years to a medical condition;
  • Losing sleep over those worries;
  • Having a strange, vivid dream when she did finally sleep;
  • Trying to re-create the dream on canvas;
  • Painting;
  • And painting;
  • And more painting;
  • Having an acquaintance really like one of the works after seeing it on social media.

Oh, and there’s the part about learning how to paint, too.

All that happened within the last year for Lundahl, whose recent acrylic painting of purple poppies in an ethereal golden field was purchased by the set decoration team for “Joe Pickett,” a 10-episode series being co-produced by Paramount Television Studios for cable TV’s Spectrum Originals channel.

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Terry Lundahl works on a painting of a field of poppies in her home studio — her kitchen table — in Sturgeon Bay. Lundahl, who’d never taken up painting until she went through a series of unfortunate events last year, recently sold one of her poppy paintings for use on the upcoming Spectrum Originals cable TV show “Joe Pickett.” (Photo: Christopher Clough/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

‘Never, never, ever, ever’ thought she’d make a living as an artist

It’s been a year of upheaval for the 64-year-old Sturgeon Bay resident, who worked almost all of her career in concert and music promotion, community outreach and other arts- and performance-related enterprises — always behind-the-scenes — until the pandemic struck last spring. 

In all that time working with artists, musicians, dancers and actors, she wasn’t the one on stage, wasn’t the one playing an instrument, and especially wasn’t the one exhibiting her art, mainly because she’d never created a serious piece of art, never really thought of doing so.

Now she’s turned her art into her new career, something she couldn’t have imagined at this time last year.

“Never, never, ever, ever,” Lundahl emphasized when asked if she thought at any time in her life she’d make a living as an artist. “The closest I’ve ever been is behind the scenes, addressing the creative endeavors of others for them to move forward. The only thing I ever did with art was if a 5-year-old needed help in one of the Art for Health programs,” she said with a laugh.

At the time the coronavirus starting making its way into Door County last spring, Lundahl was in her 18th year of coordinating community outreach programs for Door County Medical Center though her Dragonfly Agency, which she founded in 2002. Some of the more visible efforts included the annual Art for Health mini-workshops for children and co-directing “LEAP: The Human Kindness Project” stage show written and performed by local high school students about social issues.

Through her agency, Lundahl was also booking and promoting the Sunset Concert Series, a free series featuring national touring musicians on the outdoor amphitheater stage at the Peg Egan Performing Arts Center in Egg Harbor, and was program director at Southern Door Auditorium on the Southern Door school campus.

But with large gatherings of people put on hold across the state and similar recommendations from the Door County Health and Human Services Department, community outreach programs weren’t going to happen last summer. So, Lundahl’s contract with the medical center was ended in June, and the concerts at the Egan PAC and shows at Southern Door were canceled.

Lundahl said she understands why those programs had to be canceled, but that put her in a unique position. After a lifetime of work as a promoter, director and organizer of community events, she suddenly had nothing to do. 

“After being out in the public for so many years, it became something of a culture shock,” Lundahl said. “It was really this lack of something to do for somebody so used to working 60 hours a week, lacking the ability to express my creativity anywhere.

“I certainly didn’t expect to give up a career to start painting on a whim. I understand the reasons why, with the pandemic and where there were no opportunities to continue this work, but I realized too that over the course of a lifetime of service to others in this community that I had to reinvent myself. I had to convince myself that it is never too late to start again with a new beginning.”

‘I found myself pacing the house night after sleepless night’

That new beginning didn’t take shape for a few months, after a major health scare.

Lundahl’s husband, Paul, suffered a heart attack in the middle of the night of Oct. 1. He first went to Door County Medical Center, but the hospital didn’t have space for him, and it took about six hours of checking with other cardiac units in the region before space was found at Aurora BayCare in Green Bay. Once there, it took a week to stabilize him before he could go into surgery, where he underwent a quadruple bypass operation that kept him in the hospital for another week. 

Paul is doing better now — he’s back to chopping wood, working in the shop and performing other tasks at the couple’s secluded home in the woods — but the two weeks he was hospitalized, combined again with the pandemic, presented another sort of culture shock to Terry.

At the time, Aurora hospitals weren’t allowing any visitors as a health precaution, and although staff managed to allow Lundahl to visit her husband three times with very strict protocols, she said it’s the longest stretch of time where she was really by herself. And she was spending that time worrying about her husband’s health.

“I’ve really never experienced being alone before,” Lundahl said. “It was a lot of long nights. We have been married for over 40 years and I found myself pacing the house night after sleepless night. My anxiety level was over the top.”

The night before Paul’s surgery, Lundahl was getting some sleep when she had a dream — what seemed an endless field of red and purple poppies that “… flooded my brain and seemed to go on forever with the most beautiful sunrise,” she said.

The morning after, Lundahl mentioned the dream to her daughter, Megan, co-owner-operator of The Pearl of Door County, a downtown Sturgeon Bay shop that offers physical and mental wellness programs and products as well as fine art.

“Megan was really inspirational. She said, ‘Mom, if you dreamed that, you should paint it,'” Lundahl said. “She suggested that I get out of the house and paint at her shop. She had all the materials.”

Thing was, Lundahl had never worked on a painting, at least not since she was in school. Her daughter set her up with a paint brush, acrylic paints and a canvas and she tried to translate her dream into visual art but naturally was distracted by frequent updates on her cell phone from the surgical team at Aurora on Paul’s status, as well as an attack of vertigo.

But that night — actually, at about 3 in the morning, alone and unable to sleep soundly despite the good news from the hospital — Lundahl went back to painting. For inspiration and instruction, she started an internet search for paintings of poppies and came across a tutorial on acrylic painting on “Color by Feliks,” a YouTube channel by artist Feliks Kaparchuk, who’s been compared in online comments to Bob Ross for his calm, soothing demeanor.

“At 3 a.m. I sat alone with the fire blazing in the wood stove and took all the art materials out to the kitchen table and set to work. My head and heart had never felt clearer,” she said. “There was something about (Kaparchuk’s) voice and his teaching method that really calmed every part of my body. Through him I created my first art piece of poppies.

“It was strange to react like that over a dream, but that’s where (the painting) came from. It seemed to go forever, these rolling hills of poppies. I just kept on painting, instead of getting up every two hours.”

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It took a friend who ‘can’t tell a lie’ to convince her the work was good

After completing her debut fine art painting, Lundahl posted an image of it on her Facebook page. Not only did her friends encourage her to keep painting, several offers came in to buy the work.

So, she decided to continue exploring this new outlet, continuing to work from her kitchen table, and her friends responded positively.

“From then on, I just started painting what was in my imagination,” she said. “It’s certainly my own style. I can’t say where it comes from except my imagination … I started painting daily, hours and hours nonstop. As each new piece developed, I would post it online, and it would sell immediately.”

Then, Lundahl’s daughter said she’d put her new paintings on display in her shop — where they, too, sold quickly. In fact, she said all of her first 21 paintings that she completed and posted on her Facebook page or had shown in Megan’s shop were sold, although she admitted, “For as many as I’ve sold, I threw three times that many away.”

With her inexperience in art, Lundahl said she still wasn’t sure at that point she was a good artist. With most of the paintings being sold to Facebook friends who knew of her story or out of her daughter’s shop, she says she harbored thoughts that the sales might have been pity purchases, rather than purchases because the buyers really liked the paintings.

But her confidence was boosted by a talk with her friend Dorothy Scott, a singer-songwriter who Lundahl represents and who works closely with Lundahl on LEAP and other projects.  

“Those that know (Dorothy) know that she can’t tell a lie,” Lundahl said, “and when I asked if it’s possible that these were sympathy buys, she said, ‘No! You are good.'”

Plus, Lundahl learned that some of the purchases were by people from outside the area who had no idea of the story that led to the paintings, such as a social worker from Ohio who bought one of white poppies to hang in her office.

“When I got that feedback, it helped boost my confidence,” Lundahl said.

For the crew behind ‘Joe Pickett,’ working directly with artists is a highlight

Among those taking an interest in her art was Danielle French, a musician who lived and performed in Door County about 10 years ago and has returned occasionally for Steel Bridge Songfest and other songwriting festivals at the Holiday Music Motel in Sturgeon Bay. Now in Calgary, Alberta, French also is working as a set decoration coordinator for the production company making “Joe Pickett.”

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This dreamlike painting of purple poppies in a golden field by Terry Lundahl of Sturgeon Bay, who’d never taken up painting until she went through a series of unfortunate events last year, recently was bought for use on the upcoming Spectrum Originals cable TV show “Joe Pickett.” (Photo: Christopher Clough/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

The new show appears to be quite a serious effort from Paramount. It’s based on the bestselling series of mystery novels by author C.J. Box featuring the title character, a game warden in rural Wyoming who, according to reviewers, doesn’t have character-defining personality or physical traits but instead simply tries to do what’s right.

The hourlong shows will star Michael Dorman, an actor from New Zealand who starred for two seasons in the Amazon Prime TV drama “Patriot” and the current Apple TV+ sci-fi series “For All Mankind.” He also had a co-starring role with Elisabeth Moss in last year’s remake of the movie “The Invisible Man.”  Co-stars include familiar names such as David Alan Grier (“In Living Color,” “Life With Bonnie, “Dad Stop Embarrassing Me”), Sharon Lawrence (“NYPD Blue”) along with Julianna Guill (“The Resident”) and Mustafa Speaks (“Seven Seconds”).

French and Lundahl have been Facebook friends for many years, but they weren’t in regular contact, and French said she wasn’t aware of Lundahl’s recent difficulties. She just happened to be surfing around the internet in April when she came across one of Lundahl’s new poppy paintings.   

“I was just scrolling on Facebook one day as I was getting ready to buy art for the show, and I saw (Lundahl’s painting) and just fell in love with it,” French said. “I work very intuitively. I knew we were looking for a certain color palette, and when I saw (Lundahl’s piece), it just jumped out at me. I didn’t know her story at the time, but I love how it grows. I believe in that sorta higher intuitive impulse.”

“She just told me it really spoke to her,” Lundahl said.

When the buying process began, Lundahl wasn’t aware of the great number of pieces required to create the set of a TV show or movie. 

“Since this happened, I started to pay special attention to the artwork on the walls (of TV shows),” she said. “And, oh my god, there’s hundreds and hundreds of them.”

French said when buying pieces for a set, she prefers to find art directly from the artists as much as possible. First, it’s easier to get copyright clearances working directly with them, instead of perhaps buying a piece at a garage sale and trying to track down the artist; and second, it supports the artists directly, especially in the turbulent economy of the past year.

“The really great part of why we love to reach out to artists we know or artists in the community … we know we can clear these things right away,” French said. “And then, we’re supporting independent artists, we’re not just buying things at Walmart, so it’s really supporting the arts community.”

It’s not yet known when Lundahl’s painting will be visible on “Joe Pickett,” nor when the show will air on Spectrum cable systems. Production work is just starting, French said, with shooting through sometime in September, followed by post-production, so it’s too early in the process to say. The show is expected to premiere in 2022.

‘I think we falsely buy into the notion that creativity is a youthful pursuit’

Meanwhile, Lundahl is continuing to welcome the unexpected chance to explore a new phase of her life. 

“I think we falsely buy into the notion that creativity is a youthful pursuit,” she said. “I think that as we age, we have many more experiences and possibly more wisdom to draw from when we create. I’ve always felt a sense of extreme joy being behind the scenes while encouraging others’ creativity. I never expected that a time would come where I could sit down and explore my personal creativity.”

Lundahl still uses her kitchen table as her art studio, but she’s expanding her artistic range, recently creating a painting that’s not a floral, but instead more of an abstract figure, and she said she has four commissions on which to work.

She expects she’ll be able to return to promoting concerts and other community events in the near future, assuming the pandemic eases its spread, but she plans to continue painting.

“Well, I can’t see stopping,” Lundahl said. “I think for as long as the muse moves me, I’ll continue. What’s interesting is, all the jobs I had, I was switching directions every 15 minutes. With this, I’m able to focus right in on one thing. I’ve always been focused on the end product, but with this, I get to focus on the process … And it’s been a great learning curve for me.

“It’s nice to tap into my own creativity instead of giving it away. It’s kinda fun using it for myself.”

Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected]

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