Shari Kohnen of Canton is enthusiastic about the art of needlepoint and grateful that she has had an opportunity to share her vast knowledge with so many people.
Shari Kohnen of Canton is enthusiastic about the art of needlepoint and grateful that she has had an opportunity to share her vast knowledge with so many people.
As the coldness of winter returns to the area, residents become ever aware of the ability human beings have to adapt to adversity. Surviving turns to thriving when creative outlets are an important part of a person's life. Shari Kohnen of Canton believes that her needlepoint has gotten her through the hard times of her life and that beauty can be found everywhere.

Kohnen, a 1958 graduate of Canton High School, was born in Chicago and lived there until she was 11 years old. After her parents' divorce, she came to southern Minnesota where her mother's family lived. Soon, Fillmore County was her home.

"One of my teachers, Martin Elstad, got me interested in a position at Luther College during my senior year and I started working as a bookkeeper and taking classes," she said.

Kohnen eventually moved to Minneapolis, pursuing a career in nursing and lived at the Lutheran Deaconess Home and Hospital (LDHM), which, up until 1920, was known as the Norwegian Lutheran Deaconess Institute.

After graduating as a registered nurse in 1962, Kohnen worked for a general practitioner in Edina until she married. They had children and the family moved to a more secluded home near Lake Sarah.

"It was hard work having two babies just 13 months apart," remembered Kohnen. "I had always been creative and began doing hand work to keep a balance in my life. I love doing arts and crafts! Needlepoint is my favorite art form."

As a gift, Kohnen was given an opportunity to attend a weekend retreat at The Callaway Gardens School of Needle Arts in Pine Mountain, Ga. Callaway Gardens boasts of 6,000-acre gardens, resort and preserve which is located in the southernmost foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

"I couldn't believe it!" exclaimed Kohnen. "A three-day school near Atlanta is something I will never forget."

At the Callaway Gardens School of Needle Arts, which has been inspiring creativity and giving students an opportunity to make new friends for over 40 years, Kohnen was introduced to many new techniques and was so glad to meet like-minded crafters.

Her needlepoint began as a personal expression of her own sense of wonder at the world in which she lived. Kohnen started sharing her skill by working at a local craft store. Then Gagers at Brookdale had her teaching classes and, before long, she was demonstrating for a craft company and traveling the country doing television shows.

"I loved teaching other people, especially students in schools. I would not just explain weaving techniques, but talk about how dyes could be made and also the unique role color has in fabric," Kohnen explained. "Dyeing in a natural way was fun to demonstrate. Goldenrod is a common plant I chose to explain the way the flowers, stems and even the roots are valuable. Then mordants - a chemical that fixes the dye to the fabric or yarn to make the color permanent - are added. The process can be tedious to get just the right color and you learn to make enough in one batch so your colors don't vary in shade."

Kohnen has reason to be proud of her "hand work" and has several pieces displayed in her home. Needlepoint projects that she is especially fond of are Christmas ornaments and a crèche she created over 30 years ago. They are made with decorative stitches, hand painted and have various decorations like bells added to them.

One of Kohnen's pictures has over 324 stitches per square inch, allowing a great deal of shading and dimension.

"I often wonder if needlepoint is a dying art form," Kohnen pondered. "I find it interesting the way one culture brings another culture together by adapting art as they create. I have studied the way pieces of artwork have helped trace the roots of various civilizations."

Kohnen explained her own family background has a tie to the Mayflower, which she never would have known about had it not been for a teapot her Aunt Hazel possessed.

"She is my grandfather's sister and always said this teapot came over from the old country," Kohnen said. "You never know what you will find once you start looking into your family's past using the special useful or decorative keepsakes in your homes."

Kohnen did some research and finally, earlier this year, received confirmation that her aunt's tea set had a connection to John Alden and the Mayflower.

A letter from Bob Bishop, a volunteer at the Decorah Genealogy Association states, "John Alden (1599-1687) and Pricilla Mullins had a son, Joseph Alden (1624-1697) who had a son, Joseph Alden (1667-1747) who had a son, Samuel Alden (1705- ?) who had a son, Josiah Alden (1738-1785) who had a son, Elijah Alden (1763-1843) who had a son, Gilbert Alden (1787-1854) who had a daughter, Angelina (1819-1902) who married Martin Mosher. They had a son Demetrius (1843-1924). Demetrius married Emma Jacklin Mosher (1843-1892). They had a daughter, Florence (1868-1950). Florence married George Easler. They had a daughter, Emma Evangeline Easler (1895-?) . Emma married Dwight Webster Hill (1891-1958). They had a daughter, Millicent Florence Hill. Millicent married James Aspel and they had a daughter...YOU."

Perhaps some day Kohnen's great-grandchildren will treasure the pillows, pictures and other craft items she has created.

"The needlepoint items I have worked on over the years have helped me survive difficulties throughout my life. Everyone goes through hard times," said Kohnen. "Creating something beautiful or useful is a good outlet and I hope the art of needlepoint is revived."

For more information on Kohnen and her needlepoint call (507) 743-8213 and make sure to leave a message.

If readers are looking for information about family roots, do what Kohnen did and call the public library in Decorah, (563) 382-3171 and ask for the Genealogy Office or call Bob Bishop directly at (563) 382-2299.