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A lifetime of creativity; Wadena woman's talents led to three published books

Joan Hutson is 83, but she can still remember moments from when she was 5 years old in her family's Wadena home, back when the town was in the midst of the Great Depression. Although that memory spans the better part of a century, the image is still fresh in her mind - because that's when she first became an artist.

"I started drawing little children, and I would draw a whole great big long line of them," she remembered. "I think I felt kind of like a lonely child, and this was some way to compensate. Every night, as soon as supper table was cleared, out would come the paper. I'd draw a line across the bottom, and then rows and rows of children."

From those beginnings as a toddler drawing at the family dinner table, Hutson began a life of creativity. She grew to become an innovative painter who has pioneered new techniques in creating art, a musician and liturgical songwriter, and a successful author of dozens of books that are read all over the world.

Her writing career first began during her teen years, when a teacher who happened to share Hutson's love of words noticed her work and suggested she send in an article to a publication, entitled "Review for Religious". She followed that advice, and the quality of her article managed to break a few barriers at Review for Religious as a result - although she missed out on getting her name in the byline.

"Back at that time they couldn't take anything from a woman, so they took my article and then they said 'a reader'," she recalled.

During Hutson's initial days of being a published writer, the first three articles she wrote were picked up by the first three publications she contacted. For the next phase of her life, however, she would balance her writing and artwork with her profession as a teacher.

After high school, she studied both art in Minneapolis and teaching in St. Cloud. She also taught in Montana for two years before coming back to her hometown of Wadena to teach at St. Anne's School for 17 years.

Hutson's first book was a collection of poetry, entitled "The Wind Has Many Faces", which was published in 1974. The poetry compiled in the book fits the style of "concrete" poetry, or poems that have their text arranged on the page so they appear to look like the subject of the poem when viewed from a distance.

The book that brought Hutson the most recognition, however, was "Heal My Heart, Oh Lord", written as though God was talking to emotionally injured people. The book was eventually published in Chinese as well as English, and although her words reached far across the globe, Hutson said the words of people who wrote back to her were close and personal.

"I got letters from people who were going to commit suicide, and when they read the book they tried to give it a second thought," she said. "Of all the 20 or so (books) I've had published, none brought the reader response that that one did."

Although her writing brought her worldwide acknowledgement, Hutson has also received a great deal of attention for her artwork, especially a new form she helped to develop called "smoke drawings" or "art by candle", which involves using materials produced by burning certain kinds of fuel to create images. Hutson still goes through the painstaking process of creating the "smoke drawings," although she recently discovered that so many years of breathing in hazardous fumes may have affected her health.

"I had a terrible cough about two years ago," she said. "The doctor asked me three times if I smoked. I've never smoked."

Health issues and getting older haven't deterred Hutson from her creative side in the slightest, however. She said she still often stays up until the wee hours of the morning to work because that's when she's at her most productive.

"I never go to bed before 2:30," she said. "It's hard to get into that groove where creativity thrives. If I know I'm possibly going to be interrupted, then I don't even try to get there, so I work really late at night."

Hutson's tireless work ethic has most recently paid off in the form of three different children's books, to be featured at An Open Book here in Wadena in the coming weeks before Christmas. The books are entitled "I See the Moon. The Moon Sees Me.", "Who Says 'Twinkle' to the Morning Stars?" and "How to Be Amazing (in alphabetical order)".

Hutson said she has no plans to stop creating anytime soon.

"As long as I can hold a pen or paintbrush or use a computer to type ... I'll never quit," she said.