Erin O'daniel is a writer, artist and gender expansive womxn living in Duluth, Minnesota

Frida Kahlo is Duluth

to all the oceans who are not yet oceans, come home.  

There is a bridge between left and right. Allowing us all to express who we really are. Synapses firing. Catching like brush. Ablaze on stage like Barbra Streisand yet as symmetrical and balanced as a Manhattan cupcake.

Across from Southworth Marsh on Minnesota Point is a house that stands three stories tall on the right and just two stories on the left.  These parts, separate yet connected, art and function, make me think of Frida Kahlo.

Minnesota Point is the world’s longest freshwater sandbar. It stands out from a city hell bent on internalized means of expression. Adage, aphorism, apothegm. Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist who advocated internationally for socialism. She is widely recognized for her self portraits and infamous unibrow.

The hillside of Duluth stretches from west to east dipping in the middle, unplucked as well, then continues to the other edge of the city’s granite face.

Last winter, after years of watching the completion of what I now call the Frida Kahlo house, I wrote a letter. I wanted to know if the owners had been inspired by Kahlo’s home in Mexico City.

In two pages, I explained how over a period of five years I’d watched the creation of the house. I appreciated the constant reminder of a woman who still has such a creative force and presence in the world.

I also spent a little effort explaining that I’m not some stalker weirdo with a pastime for writing letters to unknown neighbors and that at some point I hope to use a photograph of the house in conjunction with some pictures I’d taken of the hillside, diagonal from their home, above the high bridge, of Frida Kahlo’s unibrow.

I receive a call three months later- at the end of winter. The female half of the couple who lives in the Frida Kahlo house reaches out. She is excited and curious, wants to know more about my connection with their place and my bag of artistic ideas.  She shares that she loves Frida’s art as well and admits they did Not design the house after Kahlo’s residence. We agree to meet- she invites me over for a tour the following weekend.

I arrive after a long cold walk at the very end of the Point. Joanne is gracious and offers me hot tea. She’s also pulled some of her favorite Frida Kahlo keepsakes reminding us the woman was both artist and incendiary.  

Frida used mystery, costume, and image to communicate a constructed self to the world. She said, “My art is me- and my life and art are one whole, integrated and indivisible unit.”

Joanne leads me on the tour. Their first floor looks out over lake superior yet is surrounded by tall white pines. She says they paid attention to the existing landscape. The first story could easily hold two of my apartment which is three blocks away. My view of the lake is as open as the top of a teacup. Nothing taller than beach grass exists between me and the big lake.

In the Frida Kahlo house, the largeness lends to the generosity and worldliness these people emanate. Joanne’s husband is an architect and this house is his homily. Joanne takes me to all corners. She commands the hot lights of the inside stage. Every room is a gallery with museum worthy images on the walls and mementos from the beach within hands reach.

When she leads me across the bridge on the second floor I am in Mexico City. This is the structure that caught my eye. Allowed me to fly! peacefully, south on simple walks. We climb higher. Joanne shares the one room, the one side of the third floor.  Her painting studio.

I had no idea what I’d find in the Frida Kahlo house. Every day we reach out and bridge our seemingly separate lives. Shared words, work, wisdom, inspiration.  

Joanne visited my home two weekends ago. We sat on my turquoise blue couch and poured through a new book about Frida’s art written by Judy Chicago. Another bridge. Another refusal to mask the existence of desire.

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