Alumni spotlight: The art of Naomi Friend

Lydia Jayaputra —Staff Writer 

Naomi Friend, Dordt University alum, professional artist, mother, and business owner, is currently showcasing her artwork at Dordt University. “A Given: Place” will stay up until Dec. 9. 

Located in the art gallery in the classroom building, her display contains large landscape paintings, smaller animal portraits, and paintings of flowers in vases. A collection of her Iowa State Park stickers hangs on the far wall. 

Art enthusiasts, Dordt students, and student’s parents piled into the small gallery to see the paintings on Oct. 28, during Friend’s artist reception. People snacked on complementary cheese and grapes while perusing the pieces. Friend stood by her largest painting, titled “The Space for Hope,” and talked about her artwork to the crowd of about 30 people. 

One series of artworks, “Heirloom series,” features human-bred farm animals that are now going extinct, along with a few wild animals with the same fate. The animals rest in front of blue cyanotype images of their native area. 

“We’re called to be caretakers of creation, and we’ve not only made these animals, but then we’re also allowing them to go away,” Friend said. “And, I don’t know, I’ve been mourning that.” 

Another series of paintings revolves around varying flowers, oil-painted in the traditional Dutch still-life style. Friend has Dutch heritage from both sides of her family. She also owns a flower shop, and each flower in the paintings is one she grows and sells. Like the Heirloom series, the background of the flowers shows their regional roots. 

The last series, called “Prairie Altars,” is a variety of Iowan landscapes with some sort of vessel, whether porcelain plate or opaque red pitcher. These artworks span the longest time in Friend’s career, with some finished back in her grad school days, and others still in progress. Among the Prairie honors is one called “Cool of the Day.” “NFS,” or “not for sale,” is marked on its nameplate instead of a price. 

“I took my son to one of these state parks,” Friend said, “and it was one of those days you could tell God made the world good… [Last time] I put a price on [a personal] painting, someone bought it, so I decided not to put a price on it this time.” 

Art helps Friend explore “the codependence between us and the creation around us,” according to her artist statement. Midwest ecology is personal to her as a born, raised, and current Iowan. 

“I’m teaching myself to think about [ecology] positively, that God is in control of everything, and we just have to work in that direction faithfully,” Friend said. 

Her Dordt art gallery, comprised of three ecology-minded series, was not arranged by Friend, but by current Dordt students. Before the artist reception, Friend talked at the students’ senior seminar class twice: once to explain her artwork and experience as an artist, and again to give more personal advice to the students. 

“She started her businesses, and it took a long time to gain traction,” said Emma McGaughey, a graphic design senior. “[It was] encouraging to hear that even if your art isn’t getting out there as fast as you want, that’s okay, and you can find ways to do new things.” 

After the students learned about Friend and her artwork, Friend asked them to decide the arrangement of the paintings. After debating on how best to set each piece up, the students decided to arrange them by place. They set animal and flower paintings next to their native Prairie Altar painting habitat. They measured and hung the artwork themselves. 

“We all had different ideas of how we wanted to do things,” McGaughey said. “It was a challenge to figure out how to incorporate different series of work together… [Friend] had never seen her art set up the way we did it, and she really liked it.” 

Friend’s influence on Dordt is not limited to her current art gallery. Three of her artworks are on permanent display at Dordt. The pillars around the art department, with clay-molded faces, trumpets, and horses—depictions from Revelation—were made by her and other art students when she was a student. Cyanotype square pieces of hers hang near the science building offices, and an older “Prairie Altar” piece resides in the Agricultural building. 

Art professor David Platter heard of Friend from the Dordt community before asking her to showcase her artwork. 

“I think she was really highly revered [when she went to Dordt],” Platter said, “because I couldn’t stop hearing faculty suggest ‘hey, you should get Naomi to show.” 

Platter hopes for Dordt to host one alumni highlight a year, hopefully on Defender Days weekend, like Friend’s artist reception was. 

“We hope people who come back on Defender days may have a link to the alumni,” Platter said. “We hold it important to demonstrate where our students have gone professionally.” 

Photo credit: Naomi Friend 

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