Going with the Grain: “Wood is Good” at AZ Gallery


Growing up in Brainerd, artist Beth Stoneberg experienced the trees of the North Woods not as inanimate objects. They were living spirits, their grain much more than inert matter. It was a form of energy – a fluid presence, kinetic and alive. 

Today, Stoneberg applies this animistic vision to the oil paintings she creates, including the 20 pieces on display in her “Wood is Good” exhibition at AZ Gallery in Lowertown in Saint Paul.

Located in the historic Northern Warehouse, AZ is an artist co-op exhibition space – Stoneberg is one of the owner-members. It is also the site of a members-only Aperitif Hour taking place this Sunday,  prior to the Daily Planet’s “Pick of the Market” benefit dinner at the Black Dog Café. In addition to viewing Stoneberg’s work, Twin Cities Media Alliance members attending the Aperitif Hour will meet and chat with Sen. Ellen Anderson (DFL-St. Paul), one of the driving forces behind the state’s adoption of the Legacy Amendment, which channels dedicated tax money into the arts and the environment.


Beth Stoneberg, AZ Gallery, 308 Prince St., Saint Paul, between now and August 29.

To register for “Pick of the Market” click here.

To become a contributing member to Twin Cities Media Alliance – and be invited to attend Sunday’s Aperitif Hour — click here. 

Stoneberg confesses that she has “always been fascinated with wood and wood grain,” so much so that when she was studying fine arts in college and given an exercise in which she was supposed to render the same item 50 different days, she chose a tree as her subject matter. Her intense interest in wood is what led her to the medium in which she works today.

“I want to allow the grain to come through the colors,” she explained; that’s why she uses tinted oil paint – which is transparent – to cover the pieces of wood that constitute the “canvas” of her artwork, rather than standard oil paint, which is opaque.

The results are works that are singularly dynamic, engaged in a dance of contrasting elements: abstract yet ornamental; delicate though often monumental in scope and scale.

Once out of college, Stoneberg said, she “realized that I couldn’t make a living creating art full-time” and went into business; today, she is a product manager for Target Corp. But a half dozen years ago, she took the plunge and decided that she was going to devote as much free time as possible to painting.

Shortly thereafter, her desire to find, and help create, an artistic community for herself occasioned her move into Lowertown’s Rossmor Building, a converted warehouse whose lofts and condos are now home to dozens of Saint Paul artists. 

That same impulse motivated her to become a member of AZ Gallery, which was founded in 1997 and today has 10 artist-owners.

“Yes, I wanted a venue to display my art and get exposure, but it is equally important that I have a group of people around me that I can support and who support me in my creative expression,” she said. “It is also important to me to be part of an organization that supports the community around it,” she went on, citing, among other things, AZ’s sponsorship of a children’s art exhibit during Winter Carnival and its participation in an annual children’s art competition.

“It’s just fun – and very satisfying to me – to see those kids see their art work displayed on a gallery wall,” she said.

As for her work currently on display at AZ, all but three pieces were created this summer. She painted two of them last fall, while the largest of them – “La Orilla” (which means “By the Seashore” in Portuguese) – was finished in 2008.

“It’s all about the wood,” she said of her paintings. “The grain influences my work. It has life of its own and in each piece I do I try to let it tell its story.”