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Our Neighbors....Patricia Bakken

"It's not done yet," Patricia Bakken said last week of her latest artistic endeavor, a seascape mural inside the Mexico Lindo restaurant in Cloquet. "In fact, that's pretty much my motto."...

"It's not done yet," Patricia Bakken said last week of her latest artistic endeavor, a seascape mural inside the Mexico Lindo restaurant in Cloquet. "In fact, that's pretty much my motto."

Bakken's self-proclaimed motto, while not entirely accurate since she has indeed completed hundreds of projects, does reflect the attention to detail she pays to each work of art.

From the hand-crafted wooden signs to the murals painted in restaurants and homes across the country, to the vintage magazines she collects to frame and give a new life, she is constantly creating.

"All these ideas are just in [my] head, and they keep coming," she explained. "It never seems quite perfect so [eventually I] have to have someone push me out the door and say 'You're done now.'"

Once she offered to paint on a relative's reading room wall, for example, and that time she was literally pushed out the door.

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"I went in there just to paint a few child-friendly pictures on the wall and the next thing I knew, I had holed myself and painted every surface," she said.

Bakken was born in Fargo, N.D., in 1955. Her family then lived in Mason City, Iowa, for a short time before settling in Cloquet in a home on Big Lake. Her father, Don Bakken, became well known in the area for his hand-painted signs like the one promoting Bergquist Imports, which still exists and was updated by Bakken in the past few years.

Bakken, the youngest daughter, often tagged along to assist in any way she could.

"Dad should have been a famous artist," she said.

Her mother, June, and father divorced while Bakken was in her early teens. June worked for Carlton County and later married Minnesota State Legislator Bernie Carlson.

"She has a lot of opinions about everything," Bakken said with a chuckle.

As Bakken got older, she and her siblings became avid golfers.

"It's kind of strange to be an artist/golfer," she said. "But my life has sort of revolved around the two things - either working around golfers in private clubs and/or obscuring art followings."

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At age 15, Bakken got the chance to visit her sister, who was employed as a nanny in New York City. She was instantly enthralled with the city.

"I went and stayed with [the family] in a brownstone and didn't want to come back," she remembered. "I suddenly had the whole world opened up to me, just the people watching was incredible!"

Bakken also worked at what was then Rudy's Cafe. She earned the nickname 'Strawberry,' after she managed to eat an entire strawberry pie. The name still sticks to this day.

"Just the other day, someone I didn't recognize called out "Strawberry," to me as I went by," she laughed. "Some 40 years later - I'll never live it down."

After she graduated from high school in 1974, Bakken headed north to Lutsen, Minn., and worked there for three seasons. In between, she traveled as much as possible. With her sister and a brother living in California, she decided to move there - and first resided in San Diego.

"I loved it and lived in California for a total of 12 years," Bakken said. "But I went back and forth to Cloquet the whole time I lived out there, so it's tough to track."

Her son, Chad, was born while she lived in Madera, Calif., in 1980.

A single mother, Bakken returned to Cloquet shortly thereafter to be near more family members.

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"I missed everyone and wanted to regroup a little," she said. They stayed for two years and Bakken worked as the office manager at a television cable company.

"It was the first company to bring cable to Cloquet," she said. "It was a mess at times trying to get everyone hooked up to the service. It seemed like everyone wanted it."

Bakken and her son moved back to California, this time to the mountain town of Idyllwild, Calif., between Palm Springs and Los Angeles, where they found themselves among artists and actors.

"I worked in an art gallery there and loved it," she said. "It became a very significant place to me."

In 1990, Bakken and her son traveled back to Cloquet where she said she worked and saved money in order to make their next move - to Las Vegas.

Chad had started playing golf when he was 9 and Bakken decided to move there so he could have more access to the sport.

"I could tell he was a good golfer and had to get him somewhere he could play," she explained. "So we moved to Vegas and got a great place to live on a golf course. I worked at a country club with golf and he could play there. I didn't drink or gamble so we just worked hard while we were there."

After four years in Las Vegas, they took a vacation driving through Colorado on their way to Minnesota. They happened to stop in Evergreen, Colo., which is located in the foothills west of Denver.

"We both agreed we could live there," Bakken said. "Chad's dad and aunt also lived in Colorado, so we went. I've always been intrigued by the air of possibility."

While in Evergreen, Bakken first worked as a concierge at the Denver Health Club but the long commute led her to launch a home business making hand-crafted signs. Her work eventually graced most of the businesses on Main Street in Evergreen.

Bakken created her signs as her father had, completely by hand, creating one-of-a-kind works of art, many in a relief style with stenciled lettering.

"My work doesn't compete with the commercial sign companies for that reason," she said. "This work is far more personal, starting with sketches that the customer approves."

Once Chad graduated from high school, Bakken picked up again, chauffeuring him to Florida to attend the Golf Academy in Orlando. Today's he's a golf professional, living in Hawaii. He also has a daughter, Isabelle Grace, whom Bakken adores.

"I did drag my son around quite a bit while he grew up," she said. "I even got a call from one of his teachers once after Chad insisted he was from Denver, Calif. I thought maybe I had a problem on my hands. But, now, he says he couldn't imagine it any other way. I guess he's a little like me."

Bakken returned to Colorado after spending some time in Florida and subsequently met her future husband, Greg Pederson, of Montana.

The two moved to Hamilton, Mont., in 1999 and were married.

She laughs as she describes one of her wedding presents - Tupperware.

"I didn't cook, but I did paint," she said. "So, I stored paint in those containers instead."

While in Montana she continued her business, under the name Montana Wood Art, and landed a contract making 258 signs for a private, historic community in the area called the Stock Farm, which is owned by Charles Schwab, the world-renowned financial advisor.

"I wasn't really sure what I had signed up for and realized afterwards that I would have to learn to sandblast the signs in order to make what they wanted," she said. "They turned out really well though and I'm proud of them."

Until she left Montana in 2004, that job and other sign commissions kept her busy. She also survived a car accident that left her with broken ribs and an injured arm.

"It was a scary one," she admitted.

Returning once again to Cloquet, Bakken wanted to be closer to her father. She opened a business on Avenue C in 2004 called Pages in Time, which focuses on preserving magazine advertising as art.

"It's gotten so I can't pass up a magazine," she said. "Many of those ads were created by artists and it's a cultural loss that many pages are discarded ... never to be gazed upon again."

Interior designers have ordered many of the framed works and she's been receiving recent interest from many of the assisted-living facilities in the area.

"I presented some of the work to the seniors and it really sparks something in them," she said. "It's amazing to see."

She's also working with the managers at Mexico Lindo to paint the murals inside the restaurant. They got to talking one day about the windows on the east side of the building, many of which were broken and boarded up.

Bakken agreed to create a design to beautify the building and it took her nearly a year to do the work. Now complete and installed, the windows have been painted green, looking a bit like each one has a window box, giving the wall a European flair.

"I was very nervous about how they would turn out," she admitted. "But I think it really changed the look of that side of the building for the better."

She may continue her painting on the additional sides of the building, after a short hiatus from the project.

Although Bakken had been dividing her time between Cloquet and Colorado, she's been spending more and more time in Cloquet with her father, who has been ill.

She and Pederson also divorced last year, a split that was amicable, she said.

"We actually signed the papers while in Colorado and then we went on a hike," she said.

Although Bakken has kept her hometown as her base all her life, she said she'll likely make it more of a permanent one from now on.

"I've lived so many lives in different houses with different friends," she said. "My life has been very unconventional to say the least, especially when you consider I'm from a small Minnesota town. I'm happy to be home now, but when I look back, I just smile."

Pine Journal Editor Lisa Baumann can be contacted at: lbaumann@pinejournal.com .

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