Stories of Wisdom from Bodies in Separation (SWaBS):
Archiving the Coronavirus Pandemic Through the Lens of Humanities
Aaron Kloss on the Work of an Artist in Pandemic
Ever since Covid-19 happened in March, April, somewhere in that point, I started working from home. I did have a studio space downtown in the old City Hall building, so I did work there previously to the Covid-19. There's a restaurant on the main level there, and they were closed up, and I could tell that they were a little nervous about everything… It's a quiet place, and it's just good to be able to go somewhere and leave the mess there and kinda have that separation between home life and work life. And I've noticed that that is a little bit of a challenge to have, to work at home and to stay focused and to not work too much, 'cause it's very tempting to go into the office and keep working….
[But] it just made more sense for me to be at home, especially since I have three teenagers and they were finishing up their classwork, and so I was helping them a little bit too, so it just made sense…
[I]t's definitely a learning curve. If you're somebody that likes to just focus, like me, and then you have people around you asking you questions and things, it does change your workflow and you just have to go with it and just make the best of it.
I started something right when the Covid shutdown happened, and that is I started posting a daily painting on my Facebook artwork page, and so I haven't missed a day ever since I started back early April. And that's been fun. So that's been something that I've added on and it kind of forced me to be structured and to even watch the clock and post it at the same time daily, and just to be steady with that. So that's actually something that's been helpful for me.
I started preparing around April 1st, and then I started posting on about April 15th. And I just wanted, as an artist, to post something that was just kind of like a day brightener, something to make you smile. Something happy, something along those lines. And so it's just a small painting, like 8 x 10, 10 x 10, somewhere in that format. And it's just, I list them and whoever comments first, if someone wants it, whoever wants it can have it. And then it's just a flat rate, including tax and shipping and everything. Really simple, it's a really good deal, so it's just been something fun that people that have been following my work have been looking forward to.
I do have a Facebook, a personal page, and then I have a business page called Aaron Kloss Artwork, so I just post daily on there. I post a photo and then I have a listing that describes the painting. And then if you want to purchase it, the first person to comment, "Sold," gets it. And then just a little description that I ship via US Postal Service and it takes about a week. So kinda the nuts and bolts of it are there, and I try to keep it pretty simple and straightforward. And I do notice that not everybody is on Facebook, and so sometimes I'll be, "Hey, I'm on Facebook," and they're like, "Oh, I don't like Facebook," and I'm like... So I have an Instagram account and I also have a website. And so between those three, I kinda try to cover everything. And then as far as if someone wants to purchase something, it's just via PayPal. And again, if someone's not comfortable with PayPal, some people do personal check and some people will also want to pay... I have an online store, and so that works too.
I'm painting a lot of landscapes and a lot of things that people are familiar with, like North Shore scenery, a lot of familiar scenes up the shore, like Split Rock and Gooseberry and things that people really identify with. And happier subjects like songbirds and sunrises and moonlit skies and just things that make people just think about happier times and that kind of nature. And also it started because I show my work in galleries and they all closed when Covid started, and so I literally had... Everything that I've ever produced is locked up in galleries when Covid hits and so I'm like, "What do I do?" And so it's just kind of a neat thing. I'm like, "Well, I'm just gonna try this and see what happens." And so far it's been really well received, and actually, I've continued it longer than I thought I was going to.
Today I did a painting today of a bald eagle nest. We were kayaking this past weekend, and we saw a nest and then a bald eagle was just soaring above us and then it landed on the nest, and so that gave me the idea of that painting. And so the painting has... There is one eagle in the nest, and the other one's kind of landing.
I paint from memory for the most part, and I take a lot of reference photos, of course. And so every once in a while I'll do a portrait of something or someone's house or something really specific that I'll get a reference photo for, but for the most part it's memory or my own reference photos.
When Covid hit, a lot of my canvas and art supply manufacturers stopped, and I quickly noticed what stretcher bars or canvas or paint or brushes, if anything was coming from overseas, I was looking at that, 'cause that instantly shut down for the most part and everything was on backorder from my art suppliers. So that affected the size of the canvases I was using too. So I kinda had to change. I was initially gonna do... I bought a whole bunch of pizza type boxes to ship, and I bought canvases to fit in them, and then as soon as those were running out, "Well, I'll just order some more." Well, I can't because they're not in stock anymore, so now I have to do something else. So I've had to kind of change my game plan based on how Covid is affecting the shipping around the world, the product inventories and different things like that...
[I]f I hadn't been doing the daily painting, my income would probably have dropped to about 10% of what it normally was. It would have almost completely stopped. And some other artists that I talked to said, especially April and May, that their profits were in the negative because they were buying art supplies and not selling enough. But since I did the daily painting and the online sales exclusively, I looked and if things continue roughly where they're at, this will be my best year that I've had in the last 10 years, ironically, when I thought it would be my worst year. So it's just interesting how a pandemic forced me to approach everything I do in a different way. And because people are online and feel comfortable shopping online, it has happened to help me out, ironically.
Kathren Kloss on Rituals
So during the first part of this, we ate a lot of carbs and did a lot of baking. [Laughs] And took a lot of walks. And had to get used to the fact that we had no gym. So it's some struggle to get back into that self-care.
We read a really great article on morning routines this week, and so we've been working on... Aaron and I have been working on morning routines and say, "Okay, well you have to do something for your soul, you have to do something educational, you have to eat and drink and exercise before you leave the house." [Laughs]
Kathren Kloss on an Art and Science Household
We have a science and art household. And that those two things can go together. And it's, yeah, it's been a funny... It's interesting to have people that are so different. And we've been married for 20 years, and so it's just kind of getting used to, we come at things so differently, and then to have these kids that are just a blend.
So it's like Miriam, she can sew, but she won't draw. And she can... And so she's headed towards a math and science. And then you can see Autumn, just all this creativity and she's doing nails and dying her hair and drawing and henna, and just all of this massive creativity. And Caleb drawing, doing animation and digital drawing. And just, it's just this conglomeration of art and science.
Sometimes I think [Aaron’s] like, "Oh it's no big deal." And he's like, "It's a political mess, it's a political story, it's not always a real big deal." And I'm like, "No, this is a real virus that's out there, and the probability is really scary." That's probably gonna be my only political statement, is that it's a real virus and is unfortunately being used for political gain and maneuvering.
Miriam Kloss on Quilting and Cross-Stitching
I like to sew, so my summer project for this year was to make a quilt. It's blue, purple with some gold and white. Otherwise I've been doing a bunch of cross-stitch and just sewing. Been practicing my flutes, practicing some ukulele. I haven't really practiced that in a while.
I was inspired to quilt when my... My mom used to quilt when she was younger, so she has like two, three quilts that she made when she was younger. That just started it all.
I've been doing cross-stitch since I was really little. I'd make my grandparents little gifts like these little, itty-bitty little... I don't know what you would call like little cross... I don't know. Some little cross-stitch gifts whenever we would come visit them.
Kathren Kloss on her Daughter’s “It’s Corona Time” List
"It's Corona Time" with all the things that she wanted to accomplish. So she's got, "Learn to knit, bake, clean room, water color, listen to records, try yoga, take a bubble bath, camp in the living room, drink tea, star gaze, sew a blanket, take a hike, paint my nails, paint a self-portrait, name your plants… origami, learn sign language, play with Legos, write with non-dominant hand, paint on rocks, make smoothies, do my laundry." [Laughs]
Miriam Kloss on Graduation
[S]o the teachers pretty much just drove to every senior's house. That's about 320 students. About two or three teachers each, to drop off signs, play the school song, and just make it memorable. Add some fun to our poor time.
I kind of thought at first it was embarrassing, but then to see... My neighbor Randall came out 'cause he heard a lot of noise, he was like cheering along. And I was like, well, gotta make the most out of this 'cause this is probably it.
[T]he teachers made this experience very memorable. It was to make sure that we knew that we were very important 'cause this year has been one of the toughest years, probably for everyone involved. 'Cause it's not every year where they bump into a pandemic.
Kathren Kloss on the 4th of July
We did a trip to a small resort in, north of Deer River for the 4th of July, so that was really nice. 'Cause normally I'm like, have to be in Duluth for the 4th of July, like the actual holiday. I'm like, "Well, there's no reason to be here this year." [Laughs]
So everything's different. There isn't gonna be fun fireworks so there's no reason to be here. And that was nice. We had a nice, quiet 4th of July. We had a boat parade and the weather was fabulous. Nice and hot. And it was a great 4th of July. But just a lot of being at home and being together.
Miriam Kloss on Baking
My sister and I have been... baking a lot this time. She goes into a little bit more extreme than I do in baking 'cause she's more into apple dumplings or just more experienced I suppose. 'Cause I just make a bunch of banana bread.
Kathren Kloss on Her Children at Work (and Bored) in a Pandemic
So my oldest had been working at Blackwoods [Restaurant] during the winter and she had gotten... They just stopped scheduling her. [Laughs] I guess they have a reputation of doing that. I don't know.
[S]he's since then found other wait staff, hospitality workers that have said the same thing, they found that they just stopped getting scheduled, and so she went and found something else. She was there for the Christmas season and then she got hired at Bellisio's [Restaurant] and had worked three orientation shifts before they closed. And so she was home.
My middle was working at McDonald's and when they went to washing their hands every 30 minutes. So their protocol was, wash your hands, hand sanitizer, gloves, hand sanitizer, every 30 minutes. And at that point, she took a leave of absence. [Laughs] I think she went back in June. So I am not sure. We let her go back once we were sure that they had all their masking and plexiglass and all of that. They still haven't opened their lobby, they are drive-up only. And Food Dudes [food delivery service] and that type of stuff. So she is back.
And then the little guy, he's 14, so he's just been home, bugging Aaron and going swimming a lot, 'cause it's been super hot. [Laughs] [...] Caleb has been doing a lot of skateboarding now that the Encounter [skateboard park] reopened. So that's been good for him to get out.
Miriam Kloss on the Risk of Working in Food Service in a Time of Covid
I work at Bellisio's too, so I just take my risks as how I want. [...] I take [my mask] off once I get in the car. [Laughs] It's uncomfortable with glasses, especially 'cause your glasses get all foggy, but thankfully, I've gotten contacts and haven't been wearing for a little bit yet, but soon.
[Bellisio's] has [the seating] at a half capacity, with customers being seated 6 feet apart, if possible. We're not having any large parties other than six people. And yeah. Just cleaning. Anything and everything that could possibly be touched. It's ridiculous, 'cause my hands get so dry, 'cause we use bleach water to clean everything.
I would say about two-thirds [of diners are] wearing masks. Sometimes one-third either forget or if they're rebellious on not wearing them. And we have to say, "There's a mandate going on. We require masks. If you need a mask, we're selling them for $1.00" Or something along those lines. It's for the safety of everybody involved to wear a mask.
Aaron Kloss on His Children as Artists
My younger two are very artistic, especially my daughter, Autumn, she's the 15-year-old, she's always drawing and painting. It's been interesting watching her work. And my son too, he's more into the comics and the graphics, computer graphics and animation and things like that. So I kinda watch them, what they're doing, to see, "Is their work on the darker side? Is it on the brighter side?" And it's been kind of an ebb and flow. And they will create art based on how they feel, so that does give me a good kind of pulse how they're doing.
My 18-year-old, she'll do more cross-stitch. She's making a quilt, so she's doing something that is tactile, but very just... It gives her mind something to do, and it's a very time-consuming... She's doing a queen-sized quilt, so she's gonna be working on it for a long time. But cutting the squares and assembling them, and the quilting process. That's keeping her... It's giving her something to do and giving a creative outlet.
When Covid started and when they were officially dismissed from school early, they were baking like crazy making cookies. We must have gained five pounds, just breads and just everything, all these different desserts and just trying all these new recipes. So they were cooking... I think the cooking gave them a sense of normal too.
All images on this page are video screenshots by Mike Scholtz.
Stories of Wisdom from Bodies in Separation (SWaBS): Archiving the Coronavirus Pandemic Through the Lens of Humanities has been made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.