HUDSON — Like a lot of people, Julie Larson intended to use the COVID-19 lockdown to do all those things there never seemed time for in the workaday world. But, again like a lot of people, she found herself enjoying the company of her family as they hunkered down together in their Troy Township home between Hudson and River Falls.
“We played a lot of games, cooked and talked but I can’t say I was all that productive creatively,” said Larson, a lifelong artist.
Her work includes painting murals for the senior class party, sets and props for local theater productions, even a utility box in downtown River Falls. In addition to her art and working as a chef at Vino in the Valley, volunteering has always been part of her life. She has been associated with the Simpson Shelter in Minneapolis, and a board member for both Our Neighbors Place and the Forward Foundation in River Falls. And she is known to many YMCA members as a highly energetic water aerobics teacher there for 26 years.
Then just a few months into the lockdown, George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer and the focus switched from the virus to what would turn out to be a reckoning on race for the country, including Larson. Family conversations changed.
“It was a hard stop. We started to really look at white privilege and what it meant in our lives. My brother and my son’s girlfriend are Black. I felt like I was sensitive to what that meant but I really wasn’t,” she said.
Larson’s son Alex set her on a path to “educate herself.”
“He said I had to really look at where I was, that nobody can do it for you and the answers weren’t with Black people. I had to look at myself and admit my own prejudices,” she said.
She began reading and listening -- “New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander and “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates among others.
Her son Kelly is also an artist and lives in a Minneapolis neighborhood near where Floyd was killed. Kelly painted a mural of Floyd outside his home. When Larson saw it she told her son she was inspired.
“His response was quick. He said he would only believe me if I took some action to prove it. ‘Let me see some action and then I’ll believe I inspired you,’” she said.
Larson took his words to heart. She packed up her dogs and paints and boxes of old magazines from the ’60s and ’70s and headed to the family cabin on the North Shore. She likes working with collages. Her garage has a floor to ceiling collage she created. She felt inspired to make one about what she was experiencing now.
She began by paging through the magazines. There were no pictures or ads that featured brown or Black people. It was a totally white world, judging by what she found. What she created reflected what she found. The images begin in the ’60s and move right to left through the decades, featuring well-known to everyday events and faces. At the center of the collage she painted a multi-colored fist.
“It reflects strength and determination and hopefully understanding … understanding that there has been a lack of power for a large part of our population but that might be changing,” she said.
Larson calls her collage her “action piece.” She is selling copies of it on Facebook, Instagram and at her SquareSpace website. All money raised will be used to support Black-owned businesses. Going forward she plans on doing more pieces as part of her own education and as a way to touch and teach others.
Larson said she is hopeful.
“Things are changing faster than I thought -- good changes, friends educating themselves and opening up to this new reality,” she said.
But she is aware that there are those who resist those changes, the Black Lives Matter movement and are uncomfortable talking about and acknowledging racism in themselves and in American culture but she insists the time for change is now.
“For all my ‘all lives matter’ friends, this is not an either/or proclamation. When there is a crisis we always rally around that group or cause. It does not diminish any other cause, it just brings awareness and support where it is needed. No one is saying all lives don’t matter. But right now our Black and brown families, neighbors and businesses need our support,” Larson said.
To purchase Larson’s print go to postersforempowerment.squarespace.com.