Local photographer to open first gallery show
By Kyle Kuphal

Originally published in the February 25, 2016 edition of the Pipestone County Star.

A new exhibit opening in March at the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council (SMAC) gallery in Marshall will feature the photography of Pipestone’s Mark Thode.

    Thode, a graphic designer at Pipestone Publishing Company and owner of Mark Thode Photography and Design, has previously displayed his photography around Pipestone and had an exhibit at the Pipestone Performing Arts Center (PPAC), but this is his first gallery show. SMAC contacted Thode in August about showing his work. He said it’s an honor to have been invited to have a solo show and to have an opportunity to network with his peers who will attend the show’s reception on March 8.

    “To have a show in the Arts Council gallery, of all places, that’s going to be on display for other local and regional artists to attend and to view my work, that’s a big deal to me,” Thode said. “I was very honored.”

    It took him until December, however, to commit to the gallery exhibit.

 “It took me a little bit to try to gather my thoughts on whether I wanted to do it,” he said. “Being that I wanted to create some new pieces to go in, I had to make sure that I had the time and the resources to pull it off.”

    Thode agreed in December to show his work at the gallery and has created four new pieces specifically for the show. Much of his photography is of landscapes, but Thode wanted to feature some of his portraiture work as well. He didn’t think graduation photos or family portraits belonged among a multitude of landscape images, however, so he set out to create portraits that would somehow fit.

    He worked with two friends, Lindsey Hellwinckel and local artist Tammy Grubbs, who acted as model and makeup designer for the new pieces.

    “I wanted to create a series of images that evoke a feeling and a visual of the four seasons,” Thode said. “With that artistic direction, I felt we were able to create or fabricate a series of images that had a sense of belonging next to a collection of vibrant landscape photos.”

    Nicole DeBoer, SMAC program assistant, said the SMAC gallery exists to offer artists who have received grants from SMAC a venue for a solo exhibit, something that’s not easy given there aren’t many galleries in southwest Minnesota. Thode received a SMAC grant for his previous exhibit at the PPAC.

    DeBoer said artists must have “exhibit-ready” work with a “high level of artistic quality” that will motivate other artists to push themselves and grow in their work. SMAC invites six artists a year to show their work in the gallery for approximately a six-week period and tries to vary the medium and the location within the 18 counties SMAC serves that’s represented by the artist.

    The pieces in the galley are for sale and may be purchased any time during the exhibit and picked up after the exhibit ends.

    Thode’s exhibit opens Tuesday, March 8 with a reception from 5-7 p.m. at the SMAC Gallery at 114 North Third Street in Marshall. The reception is free and open to all and will provide an opportunity to meet Thode. It will also feature acoustic guitar music by Pipestone musician Rachel Kuphal from 5:30-6:30 p.m.

    Thode’s work will be exhibited in the gallery through April 29 during the gallery’s regular business hours from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.


Meet the board

By Kyle Kuphal

Originally published in the Fall 2014 Pipestone Performing Arts Center newsletter.

It is with great pleasure that I introduce the newest member of the Pipestone Performing Arts Center Board of Directors, Mark Thode.

Mark joined the PPAC board in June 2014, replacing longtime member Dale Roemmich. While he’s new to the Arts Center Board, Thode, 26, has been involved with productions at the Arts Center since he was in eighth grade and comes from a family with a history of involvement at the PPAC.

His grandmother, Jylan Willey, was a charter member of the Al Opland Singers and his aunt Jana Willey (Jylan’s daughter) was part of the stage crew for the Oplands for many years. Thode said he went to see the Oplands as a child and as he grew older he became interested in working with the stage crew and asked Jana how to go about it. Soon he was part of the crew.

From there his involvement at the PPAC snowballed, with Thode taking on one new challenge after another. While assisting the Oplands he met Sylvia Newell, who recruited him to provide stage help with Calumet Players’ productions. The first show he worked on with the Calumet Players was “The Sound of Music” in 2003. Thode continued to do stage work for various productions and in 2008 he stage-managed his first Calumet Players production, “The Wizard of Oz.” In 2012, he produced his first Calumet Players production, “Peter Pan,” and this summer he made his directorial debut with the musical “Cats.”

“In some way or another, ever since 2008, I’ve been actively collaborating on a production team for various productions,” Thode said.

In 2011 he joined the Calumet Players Board, of which he is now the president.

“It was being part of the process and deciding which show is coming up and which show our audience is going to be experiencing” that he said attracted him to the board. “I really enjoyed working with those who serve on the board as well. It’s a collaborative, creative process.”

His passion for the arts lies in that creative process and “taking something as black and white as a script and being able to put it on stage and being able to create this visual splash, to emotionally move an audience.”

Thode said the opportunity to become more involved with that process by joining the Calumet Players Board played a role in his decision to move back to Pipestone and take a job as a graphic designer at Pipestone Publishing after earning a degree in graphic design and completing an internship in Sioux Falls.

“I don’t think I would have come back had I not been asked to join the board,” he said. “The Calumet Players were a draw for me.”

Today, Thode is involved in nearly every production at the PPAC, whether producing, directing, stage-managing, operating lights or sound, or marketing.

“As soon as you take one step in the volunteer pool, and continue to volunteer, the duties really add up,” Thode said. “You learn that it really takes a lot to put the smallest of shows on. It’s not any small feat. It takes an abundance of volunteers and an abundance of volunteer hours.”
The abundance of hours Thode was investing in the Arts Center is what led him to accept a position on the PPAC Board in June.

“I joined the PPAC Board in desire for more responsibility in the trajectory of the performing arts in this community. The PPAC has given me so much joy and a broad creative outlet...it's my way of giving back.” Thode said.

His goals for the Calumet Players include finding a balance between being a community theater in which any community member can take part and being a more serious theater troupe with a high standard of quality. Thode said he thinks it’s possible to achieve both broad community involvement and high quality productions. In addition, he said that the Calumet Players welcome new members and anyone interested should email him at [email protected].

His goals on the PPAC Board include first learning “the mechanics of the Art Center and learning how different productions are selected” and becoming a part of that process with the goal of attracting new, younger audience members and creating a reputation of high quality entertainment.

In addition to his work as a graphic designer and involvement in the performing arts, Thode is also a talented photographer. Samples of his photography are on display across the street from the PPAC at the Historic Calumet Inn. Samples of his graphic design skills are currently on display on the banners that adorn street light poles along Pipestone’s Main Street.


First visual art exhibit debuts at PPAC

By Debra Fitzgerald

Originally published in the October 10,  2013 edition of the Pipestone County Star

Pipestone resident Mark Thode will debut a new photography exhibit in the lobby of the Pipestone Performing Arts Center (PPAC) in conjunction with the opening night of the Calumet Players’ “Angel Street.”

Entitled “Insights,” the five-piece exhibit explores the blurred lines between photojournalism and surrealism using subjects Thode spent months shooting along local country roads.

“I go out and take the photo –– they are not fake –– but when I come back and review the photo and post process them, I’m not recreating reality but recreating how I felt and what I saw,” Thode said. “So they are ‘insights’ into how I saw the subject.”

Thode received a grant earlier this year for $703 from the South Minnesota Arts Council (SMAC). to create the new body of work. Additional funding came from two local benefactors, Pipestone residents Dennis Hansen and Delores Runge. The money funds the framing and printing of the photos on fine art canvas paper.

“It will look like acrylic paintings,” Thode said.

Opening on Oct. 11, the exhibit will remain at least until the end of 2013, according to PPAC board member Kyle Kuphal, who brought the idea for the endeavor to the PPAC board earlier this year.

“I thought it would be a good idea to make it a center for arts as a whole, not just performing arts; a place to showcase the work of artists we have right here in our own community and to give them a venue where they can exhibit their work,” Kuphal said.

The venue will actually be the second for Thode. His first was installed last fall in the dining area of the Historic Calumet Inn. A revolving exhibit, Thode changed out the original pieces about six months ago.

Allowing the use of the dining room as a photo gallery to help stimulate local creativity was a goal of the Smrkovski sisters who run their family-owned hotel. Thode’s photo-journalistic concept of Pipestone County’s ever-changing landscapes and seasons were exactly what the hotel owners were looking for, according to Vanda Smrkovski.

“Mark has a keen eye for color and composition, and we’re extremely impressed with his entire artistic process,” Smrkovski said. “He dedicated countless hours shooting and processing, and even constructing his own picture frames. It’s an honor to serve as his first art gallery, as we know he is bound for many more.”

The inspiration for Thode’s latest exhibit was spawned from the reaction of numerous people to his Calumet exhibit: Are the photos real?

“I’m always taken back by the question,” Thode said. “But that’s what actually sparked the current exhibit: What’s real and what’s not real.

The subject that captures Thode’s imagination, what he calls his “obsession,” is the abandoned farmsteads and vacant buildings strewn across the local landscape. 

“I think it’s poetic,” he said.

Thode’s exhibit will be the first for PPAC, but board members invite other local visual artists who want to showcase their work to contact Kuphal at [email protected]

“It’s still taking shape as we do this,” Kuphal said. “This is our test run to see how it goes. Hopefully, we’ll find more people to do it and better ways to do it. And maybe a long-term designated space in the lobby.”


His ideal-world images

By Kyle Kuphal

Originally published in the February 21, 2013 edition of the Pipestone County Star.

Mark Thode was drawn to photography as a young child growing up on a farm west of Pipestone.

“My mom had a very simple family-oriented camera — it was a small Kodak camera. It was film,” Thode said. “I would take that out all the time on the farm and I would shoot random things.”

Over the years, Thode, 24, developed his photography skills, which he now uses to capture glimpses of the world that others might not see.

“I think artists create the world they want to live in,” he said. “I think seeing things in a way that not many do — I think that’s where the creativity comes in.”

As of last fall, the public can see some of the images captured through Thode’s eyes and the lens of his Nikon D200 in a rotating and growing gallery in the dining room of the Historic Calumet Inn in Pipestone. The photos, which depict the natural beauty of the area including landscapes, wildlife and agricultural scenes, were all taken within about 10-to-15 miles of Pipestone. The scenes are printed on foam core board and set in frames Thode made himself. 

He describes his photos as “nostalgic.”

“I think a lot of it goes back to being raised in a rural community, a small town — growing up on a farm,” he said. “Trying to capture that simplicity.”

Thode bought his first digital camera in high school before leaving on a trip to Spain with the Spanish class. When he returned he used the camera to take photos of the family farm and his siblings and began editing them with Photoshop. 

“It wasn’t a matter of doing a lot to the photos, it was just simple things like bumping up color and cropping, and seeing all the different things you could do with a photo,” he said. “That’s what sparked the interest in photography as well as graphic design.”

After graduating from Pipestone Area Schools in 2007, he earned a degree in design technology from Bemidji State University in 2011. He had just one class in photography in college, but it was there that he decided he felt at home behind a camera.

Thode now works as a graphic artist at Pipestone Publishing and although his art is on display for the first time in a public place, he said he has no plans to become a professional photographer. Instead he’s chosen to keep his photography like his favorite subjects — spontaneous, simple and outdoors.

“I really enjoy doing nature photography — the landscapes and the wildlife,” he said. “I take portraits for my family and for close friends, but that is not a niche in photography that I want to go into as a career. I think if photography were to become a job I would lose the interest or lose the love for it.”

Shooting portraits or weddings, he said, creates a daunting list of expectations to take pictures of specific moments and specific scenes at specific times. Instead, he prefers the unexpected images that appear out of nature like the photo he took earlier this winter of a small group of deer at Pipestone National Monument. That photo is now in the gallery at the Calumet Inn.

“It’s nice to have art work that celebrates Pipestone’s local heritage and beautiful landscapes,” said Vanda Smrkovski, who owns and operates the Calumet with her sister Rina Smrkovski.

Thode and Smrkovski said the gallery was the perfect arrangement for both parties — she and her sister wanted to display local artwork and Thode wanted a place to share his work with the world. Smrkovski said there are plans for a formal grand opening of the gallery in conjunction with a grand opening for the hotel under its new ownership in the future, but there’s no set date at this time. 

In the meantime, Thode said the gallery will continue to grow. His work can also be seen on a Facebook page for Mark Thode Photography and the fruit of his artistic eye can often be seen in the set designs of the Calumet Player’s productions at the Pipestone Performing Arts Center, including the recent play “A Bad Year for Tomatoes.”

Thode, who is a board member of the Calumet Players, said many of the principals of photography and graphic design such as color, composition and lighting can also be applied to set design.

“It’s amazing how everything just kind of ties together,” he said.


Originally published in the Fall 2010 edition of Bemidji State University's "Horizons Magazine"

Mark Thode grew up on a farm in Pipestone, a small town in southwestern Minnesota, where he took every art class available to him in high school. While the focus was primarily on painting and drawing, he also explored photography. It wasn’t until he discovered design technology at Bemidji State University, however, that he felt he’d found his niche.

“I knew I didn’t want to go into hand-rendered art, but I didn’t want to stray from it completely either,” says Thode. “This program is advanced compared to others that I considered attending, and, in terms of technology, it’s top-notch.”

Thode will graduate in May with a degree in design technology and a burgeoning portfolio of his best work.

“I’m approached all the time to do projects, and I never say ‘No,’” he explains. “I guess it’s the farm work ethic that my family instilled in me. I have a hard time turning down design work.”

Thode designed the program cover for the 2010 Student Scholarship and Creative Achievement Conference, an annual signature event at BSU showcasing research and creativity of the University’s students. His cover design, completed under the supervision of Kathy Berglund, BSU graphic designer and publications coordinator, so impressed planners that they chose to print Thode’s work in full color, a first for the event.

“He has such depth to his design for someone so early in his career,” says Berglund, adding that his interest in fine arts is apparent in his work. “I could trust him with anything. His designs are so polished.”

Thode’s graphic design experience includes work for Bemidji State’s Office of Communications and Marketing, the International Student Organization, the Department of Athletics, the Pipestone Calumet Players, and Pipestone Publishing. In addition, he is an advertising sales representative, design manager, and layout designer for the BSU student newspaper, Northern Student, which he and the editor redesigned last year. This year, he is president of the BSU Design Guild, a campus organization that helps students network with design industry professionals. Thode hopes to work as a designer with a graphics firm and eventually become a creative director before revisiting his interest in photography. Through a BSU photography class, he became interested in portraiture and views his photography as a hobby and a business.

“I enjoy photography, manipulating light, telling a story, or capturing emotion through a still-frame,” says Thode. “I can’t say if I like photography more than design or design more than photography. The two work hand-in-hand.” 

In launching his career, Thode envisions helping clients define and broaden their visual identities. Creating clarity through design or photography is a challenge that he finds hard to resist.