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‘Just add water’ — Kim Falk watercolors donated to CHRC

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — Although Kim Falk died in January of 2002, her watercolor paintings live on.

And those who live and work at Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center in Colfax are delighted to have some of Kim Falk’s paintings.

Kim’s husband, Bob Falk, recently donated a number of paintings to CHRC that are displayed in the hallway just beyond The Square.

“I think Kim always wanted to be an artist, but she didn’t get into it wholeheartedly until the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. She really got into it in ‘91 and continued on until she died,” Bob Falk said.

“She could rap out a big painting in two days. That was amazing how she did it. It was amazing to watch her paint,” he said.

“Kim loved this area so much. And it means a lot to Bob to have the paintings there (at CHRC), rather than sitting here, hidden in the studio,” said Karen Falk.

The Falks live on 970th Avenue, just off of county Highway N west of Colfax.

Kim’ studio — Kim’s Valley Arts — remains much the same as it was when Kim Falk painted there.

“We feel fortunate to have Kim’s work for all of our residents, visitors and staff to enjoy. She was so very talented, and her work brings the nature of our community to life all year long,” said Jill Gengler, CHRC administrator.

“The art policy adopted at the new facility stresses familiarity for our residents to build on that feeling of home and community. We want to display local scenery and local artists,” Gengler said.

Hundreds of paintings

“Watercolor is a hard medium to paint in. Oil paint, you’ve got a lot of time if you screw up. Watercolor, you either have to toss the whole thing or wait until it dries and paint over it,” Bob Falk said.

The Falks have four albums of pictures of paintings that Kim painted, and Bob estimates that she completed somewhere around 500 or 600 paintings in her lifetime.

Kim Falk also taught art workshops.

“She had classes here. She taught at the Phipps Center for the Arts (in Hudson). Occasionally taught in Washburn. She had classes here all of the time. She was a good teacher,” Bob said.

After Kim passed away, the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts held an art show featuring Kim’s work.

Kim Falk died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 44.

When the Mabel Tainter held the art show, “people wrote letters for the scrapbook for me,” Bob said.

The scrapbook is filled with letters from people of all ages and stages in artistic development who either knew Kim as a teacher or as a fellow artist.

“So many of the people who were part of the local Dunn County art tour, Kim was instrumental in setting that up. Teaching them how to feel good about their work and how to market their work. I heard people talking about that when she passed away, how much she had helped them,” Karen Falk said.

“I stayed in it for a couple of years with her work (marketing Kim’s paintings). But everyone wanted to talk to the artist, they wanted to meet the artist. I’m not an art person,” Bob said.

“She so wanted it to go on after she was gone. It is tough. People at the shows want to see the artist,” Karen Falk said.

“She touched a lot of lives,” Bob said.

One of the letters in the scrapbook is from someone named “Beth” —

“One of the most delightful and funny things Kim told me about her relationship between her art and her husband, Bob, is she showed me all this amazing woodworking her husband had done for her studio, amazing beautiful display easels and all those great wooden storage boxes for Kim’s photographic reference material. After showing me all of this incredible work that Bob had put into her studio, Kim said, ‘Oh, yeah, Bob is great. I don’t thank God, I thank Bob.’ Well I just love that and still get a chuckle from it. I am glad to have met and known Kim Falk.” (Signed “with love, Beth”)

“I didn’t know Bob then. I knew Kim a little bit from American Manufacturing in Boyceville years ago. She was thinking about having some of her artwork turned into textiles. She was so proud of the studio her husband built for her. She talked about that. That’s when I first met Kim,” Karen Falk said.

“I can’t paint, but I can build,” Bob said.

Labor of love

Bob Falk’s carpentry skills were put to good use even before he built the art studio for Kim.

The Falks’ house on 970th Avenue was built in 1902. Bob and Kim bought the property in 1987, and Bob Falk has preserved all of the original wainscoting in the house as well as doing every inch of the remodeling work himself.

Ole Kragness had previously lived in the house.

“The structure itself was sound, but the roof had leaked. The house was empty for two years, and the wainscoting was sagging in the kitchen and the living room,” Bob noted.

“Kim must have been able to see something in the house, even then,” Karen Falk said.

“This was a kit house. It came in a kit on a railroad car. They did a lot of that back then. All the lumber on a railroad car. A crew came and put it up. They probably got it out of the Sears catalog or Montgomery Ward,” Bob said.

“This was quite (the house) back in the day. It had closets. That was a big deal,” he said.

“They raised quite a few kids in the house. The woodwork upstairs was just perfect. The kids must have always had gloves on,” he said.

When Kim first started painting after they moved into the house, she used a bedroom upstairs as her studio.

Then Bob Falk built the garage with the studio above it.

“Kim was still painting up until about a month before she died. It was really tough by the then. She was on so much morphine. But she kept at it,” Bob Falk said.

Kim Falk painted just about everything: irises; roses; daffodils; poppies; fall scenery; colored leaves; birch trees; buildings; portraits of children; branches of apples; snow; evergreen trees.

“Her flower garden gave her a lot of inspiration,” Karen Falk noted.

Bob Falk took a tour of Colfax Health and Rehab during the open house last year.

“I saw all those walls, and I thought, ‘there’s a lot of room for artwork in here.’ So I talked to Jill (Gengler) and she said they would love to have some stuff. I brought a bunch of it over there and told them to pick out what they wanted. I said they could have it all if they wanted it,” Bob Falk said.

Both Bob and Karen have had family members who lived at Area Nursing Home, and later on, after the facility changed its name, at Colfax Health and Rehab.

The loving care that all of them received was outstanding, they said.

The artist

Kim Falk earned a bachelor’s degree in art and a master’s degree in media from UW-Stout. She studied with nationally known watercolor artists such as Bridget Austin, Rose Edin, Nita Engles and Karlyn Holman.

“As an artist, I can represent life as only I can see it, feel it, and become it. To me, life is a search for inner peace, beauty and contentment. In my painting I have found that sense. It is such a thrill when others find beauty and joy in my work,” Kim once said.

As an instructor, Kim encouraged her students to experiment and have fun with the medium. Her classes were titled, “Just add water …”

As the biography that is included with Kim Falk’s paintings at Colfax Health and Rehab notes, Kim is gone, but her love of life and her incredible presence will live on forever in her art and in all the lives that she touched.