4 generations of women, 1 art gallery in New York Mills

The Aho family's art is currently on display at the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center in the Nelja Generations Gallery Exhibit. "Nelja" is Finnish for four, and art from four generations will be displayed in the exhibit at 24 North Main Ave. in New York Mills until Sept. 4.

(Left to right) Jody Hagenson, Kelly Hagenson, Sandra Daulton Shaughnessy, Shirlee Aho Daulton, Kim Smith and Genevieve Keranen stand together at the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center during the opening reception of their art gallery on Saturday, Aug. 7. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)
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Most families have their traditions, but few can say many of their family members share their passions. Four generations of women from a single family in Central Minnesota have been drawn to the arts, both on their own and through familial influence.

The Aho family's art is currently on display at the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center in the Nelja Generations Gallery Exhibit. "Nelja" is Finnish for four, and art from four generations will be displayed in the exhibit at 24 North Main Ave. in New York Mills until Sept. 4. The women with art on display are Esther Aho, Shirlee Aho Daulton, Genevive Aho Keranen, Kim Smith, Sandra Daulton Shaughnessy, Katrine Karanen Savoie, Jody Hagenson and Kelly Hagenson.

"(Displaying our art together) is pretty awesome," said Kelly Hagenson at the gallery's opening reception on Saturday, Aug. 7. "It's not something every family can do. It's a really unique, fun experience. It's something we'll all remember too."

Kelly and her mother, Jody Hagenson, have been doing art together since Kelly was a kid. Jody is an art teacher in Browerville, so the two did arts and crafts together as Kelly was growing up.

From a young age, she always knew she wanted to be an artist thanks to her mother's influence. She's now a graphic designer and photographer at the University of Minnesota. She and Jody both have photography on display at the Cultural Center.


Kelly (left) and Jody Hagenson (right), her mother, pose in front of their art at the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

On top of her photography, Jody also enjoys watercolor and making jewelry. "I dabble in a little of everything," she said. She was also influenced to create from a young age. Her grandmother, Esther, and aunt, Shirlee inspired her to keep creating as she continued to grow.

"Because there's so many family members, that makes (this gallery) even more special," Jody said. "To have that unique, special time to have art up — it's fun."

Shirlee Aho Daulton, Jody's aunt has also found her calling through art. In what she calls her "first life," she was previously a registered nurse. While she enjoyed this work, she found herself drawn to art.

"My neighbor said, 'A professor's going to give a painting class at night,'" Shirlee recalled with a laugh. "I said, 'Oh yeah, I'm going to paint,' which was kind of a joke because I didn't have any art classes. Well, I painted like a maniac day and night. I loved it."

Shirlee Aho Daulton stands next to one of her pieces displayed at the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, which is an ink and water color print on paper she handmade from plants and a wood block. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)


Now, in her "second life," Shirlee runs The Arthouse at 35059 Boys Shore Trail on Rush Lake in Ottertail, where she sells her artwork. Some of her unique work is also on display at the Cultural Center.

She hand-built some designs, such as a bird, with clay then raku fired them in a kiln, which causes pieces to get black with smoke. She also paints and handmakes her own paper from plants and a wood block. Shirlee even makes prints and weaves.

"A lot (of why I enjoy art) is the process," she said. "I'm not sure what I'm going to end up with, but I start and think, 'maybe this will work!' I enjoy the process of learning."

Sandra Daulton Shaughnessy, Shirlee's daughter, has a gallery and studio called ClayHouse Pottery at 45671 348th St. in Ottertail on the same lake as her mother. Sandra is drawn to the more tactile side of art, such as feeling the malleable and wet clay and firing kilns. When she would paint, she'd cut up her work and reassemble it because the enjoyed the hands-on process so much. Now that she's retired, she spends her time making pots.

Sandra's journey with art actually started in Perham when she was 14 at a place called Poor Richard's Pottery. In his studio, she learned how to create pottery, and her high school art program only furthered that passion. She ended up spending eight years in college, earning an MFA in clay.

Sandra Daulton Shaughnessy shows off her pottery at the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

While all of these women in the Aho family had interacted with each other's art in the past, this was the first time they saw all of their art together.


"I think it's really cool," Sandra said. "It's pretty awesome that we're a group of women from the same family that are all drawn to creating visual ideas of our life or ideas of what we like."

Genevieve Keranen, Sandra's aunt and Shirlee's sister, also finds this gallery quite amazing. She enjoys weaving, making alcohol inks and knitting. Kim Smith, her daughter, has also done art throughout her whole life. She dabbles in a bit of everything because it's a hobby she finds relaxing.

When these four different generations of the same family get together, they also make art together. They create art both as a hobby and as family time. Jody said they'll get together and make alcohol inks or prints with one another. She finds this is one of many things that makes her family unique.

"I look around (at this gallery), and I think, 'Huh! I know all these people, and they do some really amazing stuff,'" Kim said. "I'm related to them!"

The Nelja Generations Gallery will be on display at the Cultural Center until Sept. 4. The center is free to see and open to all. Their hours are Wednesday and Thursday 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m.-3 p.m. For more information, call 218-385-3339 or visit .

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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