The sheep painting visible in this photo holds the original image (flipped) that appears on one of the tiles.  CRAIG MOORHEAD/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
The sheep painting visible in this photo holds the original image (flipped) that appears on one of the tiles. CRAIG MOORHEAD/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
"This will be one of the few galleries between Minneapolis and Chicago," Michael Sieve said. "They're few and far between,"

Known throughout the United States for his award-winning wildlife paintings, Sieve lives in rural Houston County. For several years, he's been preparing a property near Daley Creek as a showplace for his work.

Sieve grew up in Wilmont, Minn., and earned an art degree from Southwest Minnesota State College. After winning three Oregon Duck Stamp competitions, he began to draw the attention of the wildlife art community. His success eventually allowed Sieve to purchase a Houston County farm back in the 1980s. He's never left.

Sieve's work is wide-ranging, bold and meticulously researched. He's journeyed to wild places all over the world, focusing on the complete environment that supports his subjects.

"Right now it's a work in progress," Sieve said as he led the way into the gallery. "But at some point it's going to be a really cool place. I see us as being an original gallery where people can come in and see the art, and then downstairs there's a room for paper prints."

The upstairs room features a vaulted ceiling, with a wide open space measuring 32 x 32 feet. Pin-sharp images of whitetail deer, strutting turkeys and pheasants share wall space with lions, tigers and bears. A pair of fawns investigate a family of skunks. Wolves howl, eagles soar. Big horn sheep cling to a rocky precipice.

There are winning waterfowl designs and graceful canvases of far-flung wilderness areas. Contrasting those are pastoral views that capture the landscape of southeastern Minnesota, filled with creatures great and small.

"Hopefully, it will become a kind of local destination," Sieve said. "My goal is to have the outside as a sort of conservation showplace, and the upstairs as an art showplace. Downstairs is where my studio is. I see it as kind of an art factory. All the things that it would take to do a wildlife painting are all centered right there."

A downstairs room is devoted to filed slides, paper clippings and digital photos. Countless flora and fauna images are stored there. Sieve provides his own photography. His artwork is authentic.

The gallery will feature original paintings and high-quality Giclee canvasses. Areas will be reserved for artist friends to display their work. The downstairs room features wall-to-wall limited edition paper prints, framed. Those will be available to visitors at rock-bottom prices, but won't be offered online. Sieve said he's not ready to "step on the toes" of any of the art dealers who carry his work. "It will serve as a physical outlet," he added.

Sieve was landscaping near the buildings with some friends on a cool September afternoon. The view from his "home occupation" featured views of a valley replete with native prairie plantings, direct-seeded native trees, contour strips. Several varieties of coneflowers and asters were blooming. The hills were shrouded with timber stand improvements. Native species of plants were favored as far as the eye could see, invasive types discouraged.

Another year may pass before the gallery is ready for a series of grand opening weekend events, Sieve noted. He wants everything just right, including outdoor areas where visitors can congregate.

The gallery walls are plywood covered with carpeting. "That's so I can pull a nail and push a nail in anywhere. No damage."

Custom ceramic tile accents are in the floor as well as around the walls. Sieve traced subjects from his paintings onto contrasting tiles, which were then stacked and cut. "We dropped the light cutouts into the dark tile, and vice-versa," he noted. "The caribou is my favorite."

Real sheep horn hold the mantle over the fireplace, just one of many unique touches. "We're winging it as we go," Sieve admitted. "But I think we got more right than wrong."

Michael and wife, Juli, moved into the house in July. Sieve said his "better half" also has a work space at home in the form of her personal office.

"She teaches business technology at the technical college in Eau Claire," he added.

Outdoor decks are still under construction, but Sieve has most of the interior spaces completely finished.

In the studio, a life-sized stencil adorns one wall. It's based on a photograph of Sieve's father, who passed away recently. The figure stands next to a huge whitetail buck from the photo, and the outline includes a hanging deer that reaches 10 feet from the tip if its rack to the rear hooves. Other family photos cluster nearby, most of which featured outdoor subjects.

On another wall several bows were hung. One belonged to Sieve's brother, who died "years ago." The space is deeply personal yet somehow workmanlike, open and inviting.

Near the center of the room stands a well-worn, plain wooden easel, the perfect embodiment of a home occupation.