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Matthies leaves a legacy of art in Brainerd community

Evelyn Matthies

Evelyn Matthies—a well-known painter and college instructor who taught thousands of students over her teaching career—died Tuesday at age 81 at the St. Cloud Hospital.

Matthies, remembered as always having a smile on her face, was a well-known local painter, an active member of The Crossing Arts Alliance and played a role in converting the former Franklin Middle School into the Franklin Arts Center. She also was a retired teacher who taught art to more than 9,000 students for 32 years at Central Lakes College.

"She was a terrific artist in her own right," said Patrick Spradlin, theater director at CLC who worked many years with Matthies at the college. "She had a great student following in her art classes and had high standards. I had the privilege of traveling with her a couple of times to Europe and we toured many art galleries.

"She was a strong advocate for faculty and the union, she was very involved in that. She was always friendly and had a great sense of humor."

Retired CLC instructor Ray Frisch also worked with Matthies for many years.

"She was just a bright spot in the day whenever you met her," Frisch said. "She was the most upbeat person I know. She always had a smile on her face and always had a good thing to say about everyone. She was professional and an exceptional person. She was friendly and just a neat person in every way.

"It was a privilege to know her and to work with her and it's really sad she is gone."

Bob Dryden, a former CLC theater director, said Matthies helped launch his career. He said Matthies would organize members of the American Association of University Women to assist in painting the theater sets for his musicals. He said the college and the AAUW had a relationship for about 10 years.

"I found her to be a tremendous artist and a friend," Dryden said. "I was so grateful to her. We worked on many projects together. She was so easy to work with."

"We were like a threesome, the three of us," Mike Smith said of Dryden, Matthies and himself. Smith was a choir instructor at CLC from 1970-74 and the choir director at Brainerd High School from 1984-2006. "Evelyn helped with so many things. She was the art instructor, and helped me design stages for concerts, design the programs and the backdrops. She was so wonderful and I would say 'I need something for my concert and she would say well that will be fun.'

"She was a remarkable and giving person ... It's going to be hard to replace someone like her. She was so positive and ... she had this spirit. She never complained and always tried to help."

Smith said his family has two art pieces Matthies created at his home and those pieces are now even more special to him.

Outside of Matthies' college life, she also was a founding member of the Danish Sisterhood Amber Lodge in Brainerd. Both sets of Matthies' grandparents came from Denmark. Her grandmother worked to start an internationally known art colony in Jutland, Denmark, and was so instrumental when Matthies visited the site she was considered royalty from Minnesota.

Joni Hill, who was a founding member with Matthies with the organization, said "Evelyn was a good leader."

Evelyn and her husband Bill of Brainerd received the Tower Award in 2016 from the city of Brainerd. Bill Matthies owns the Minnesota School of Diving off Washington Street in Brainerd and Evelyn's art gallery called, Porthole Gallery, is housed in the school.

The Matthies received the award on Dec. 22, a date that is special to the couple. Bill Matthies said Dec. 22 is the anniversary of their first date. They went on a hay ride and he held her hand.

Lisa Jordan, executive/artistic director at The Crossing Arts Alliance said she has a lot of love and respect for Evelyn Matthies.

"I got to know her through my role here at The Crossing Arts Alliance, an organization she was instrumental in founding," Jordan said. "When you think of the arts in Brainerd, whether it's Crossing Arts, the Franklin, or arts education in general, you have to also think of Evelyn. What a strong, independent woman. I will miss her dearly."

Jordan said she always appreciated all of Matthies' stories she had about the activities she did, such as scuba diving.

Millie Engisch, who was TCAA director before Jordan, has known Matthies for about 35 years and shared her passion for the arts.

"I have a healthy respect for Evelyn," Engisch said. "She was very committed and she had a long career and was really connected and prolific. I have a ton of stories I could share about her."

Engisch said Matthies was on the TCAA board for many years when she was the director and was instrumental in turning the former Franklin Junior High School building into the Franklin Arts Center. She said Matthies also was a key player in a 2008 project called Oxtrot, which was a display of 30 or more Babe the Ox statues that were created and then housed throughout lakes area communities. The project involved sponsors and area artists and served as a fundraiser for arts in the community.

Engisch said she just talked to Matthies as they were working on finding one of her art pieces to be displayed in the Essentia Health-Baxter Clinic expansion that is being worked on.

"She was a great lady and so involved in the arts," Engisch said.

Funeral services for Matthies will be 10 a.m. Friday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Brainerd. Visitation will be 4-6 p.m. today, Dec. 21, and from 9-10 a.m. Friday.

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