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Former Preschool Teacher Now Masters the Trowel

Concrete wall in Perham Minnesota that has been colored and designed with inspired art.

About 25 years ago, Cindee Lundin took a leave of absence from her job as a preschool teacher and enrolled at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota to work on her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. She already had two associate degrees — one in art and the other in child development — but state laws were changing back then and she needed a more advanced degree to continue to teach in public schools.

In between classes, she’d usually tackle her assignments since she commuted, not to mention had two small children at home. But for once, she didn’t have any homework and set out to explore the campus. And call it luck or fate, a random walk through the school’s art department turned her life around.

Concrete mural of a desert view.

Floor in browns and teals with ribbons of colors flowing through.

As she strolled the halls, she remembers feeling jealous of the art students because “I felt like I just belonged there,” she says. “I came home and said to my husband, ‘I’m doing the wrong thing. I should pursue art full time.’”

After Lundin’s husband, Mark, got over the initial shock of his teacher-wife wanting to be a full-fledged artist, he was behind her career change 100 percent. “And that’s how I got started doing what I do now,” she says. “I was fortunate enough to have the right support system in place.”

Wall at the Bannister House in San Diego providing hope for those staying there.

The next semester, she switched her focus from early education to art, and set her sight on obtaining a degree.

But that never did happen.

For most of her adult life, Lundin had picked up paid jobs here and there painting murals, teaching art classes, hand painting furniture, and faux finishing items for friends and neighbors. After returning to school, she had a gig doing decorative painting on a huge estate to help ends meet.

Close up of a flower that was created with bas-relief techniques

A colorful floor with mutlicolored elements.

Soon, she was receiving more and more commissioned work. And then, after confirmation from her counselor, it dawned on her. She didn’t need a formal degree to pursue a career in art. She was already there.

First paint, then concrete
Somewhere in the first few years, “Mark was in the midst of a career change and we decided to team up,” Lundin says about her husband. “When he came on board, he was very interested in adding decorative concrete to our already successful finishing business.”

It was his persistence and initiative that eventually swayed her to give it a go. And just like that, “I couldn’t get enough of it!” she says. “I shifted my whole focus from painted murals and plastered walls to concrete overlays and vertical concrete. I just fell in love with concrete as an art medium.”

A large bas-relief wall leading up the stairs.

A wall with a southwestern theme bas-relief.

A cross colored in metallic epoxy.

As she grew her business, she continually invested in her education by apprenticing with artists she respected and taking advantage of trade show workshops at least once a year. Her career flourished, and she soon was leading classes of her own, regularly teaching workshops on topics such as bas relief and carved vertical concrete.

In 2011, 2016 and 2017, Lundin led hands-on workshops at the Concrete Decor Show in Nashville, Tennessee; San Diego, California; and Palm Harbor, Florida. In 2011, she focused on countertop overlays, and sculpting and carving vertical concrete. In the latter two, she and her class worked on projects that included bas relief and faux bois to beautify the areas where the shows were held.

A large carved wall with a tree depicted using bas-relief techniques.

Lundin was also a featured artisan representing the nonprofit Concrete Cares cancer victim advocacy group at the debut of Decorative Concrete LIVE! during the 2017 World of Concrete in Las Vegas.

In addition to her commissioned work, she’s a marketing consultant, trainer and distributor for EZChem Inc. based in Atlanta, Georgia. Lundin is also a master distributor for Marana Stone, a product she’s currently developing, and will soon be concentrating on selling garden sculptures, benches and outdoor decor from her store, Sticks and Stones Décor in Tucson, Arizona. More on that later.

Carved wall panel with hummingbird using bas-relief.

Concrete sitting wall carved with birds and branches and leaves.

Farmer’s daughter
Lundin, 52, grew up on a dairy farm in Perham, Minnesota, with her parents, two brothers and two sisters. Perham is in Otter Tail County, notable as the county with the most lakes — a whopping 1,048 — in the entire United States.

“We worked hard on the farm, all of us together,” she says. “We had a very happy childhood and we had a work ethic, because we all had to work on the family farm every single day. That’s been valuable to me my whole life.”

Bas-relief art piece in concrete.

Lundin’s proud to say her hometown of Perham commissioned her for two of several large public art projects she’s been involved with. Back in 2015, Lundin and her sister created Waves of Discovery, a 70-foot mural on the side of a historic building, with a sidewalk and seating to accompany it (http://www.concretedecor.net/decorativeconcretearticles/vol-15-no-7-oct-2015/land-of-10-000-lakes-inspires-carved-concrete-mural/).

While this article was being written, she had just finished up a second public art project in Perham — a bas relief lake mural on the side of a building that abuts a park for turtle-lovers of all ages. She also built 50-foot bench seating to go along with it.

Concrete wearables

Cindee standing with her carved and painted turtle statues.

“Just a block away from Waves of Discovery is a city park that holds turtle races every Wednesday morning in the summer,” Lundin says. “They get more than 500 people from all around the area because the turtle races are so popular.”

And so was the project. “Out of all my 25 years in decorative concrete, this project has been the most emotionally rewarding. People were coming out of the woodwork to volunteer,” she says, adding it was a “public art project” in its truest sense.

Lundin and her daughter, Ashley Cota, sculpted six different small turtles and cast 217 of them, which are embedded into the branches, rocks and wall. Lundin also made a stacked turtle statue which doubles as a large seat and photo-opp area for kids at the turtle races.

Custom made backsplash in concrete bas-relief.

Chair made with concrete and carved to give it a custom look.

“Every one of the embedded turtles was painted by someone in the community or from coast to coast and we have documented them all in the City Hall,” Lundin says. “It has been such a hit. I’m getting photos and emails all the time from people taking pictures with their turtles.”

In preparation, “Ashley and I created armatures and the turtles and the other pieces for over a month in my studio in Arizona and then we rented a U-Haul and brought them to Minnesota,” Lundin says. “We arrived on Memorial Day weekend and worked three weeks straight.”

This public art project involved just about everything she knew how to do, from armatures, molds and bas relief to staining, sculpting and casting.

Lundin also spent several months this year as part of a creative team of artisans carving boulders, making monoliths, a sundial, totems and benches for a large public works installation in Tucson.

Concrete art installation at the 2017 Decorative Concrete Live in Las Vegas.

Concrete floor with whites and browns.

Time are a-changin’
“Let me just say, I love, love, love my job,” Lundin says, but health issues have determined that she can no longer do large-scale projects, “My mind wants to keep working but my body says I have to slow down.”

So she says she needs to regroup and focus on projects that involve smaller sculptural pieces, juried art shows and faux bois furniture that she and Cota can create together in Lundin’s home studio.

“I’m not ready to call it quits by any means,” Lundin says. “I still have a lot to offer, a lot to teach. Many of us are complaining about a decline in craftsmanship and I want to do my part to pass on my trade somehow. Will it be YouTube videos? A blog? I’m not sure what direction I’ll take. But we’ll find out,” she says.

“This is a big transition time for me. I need to find a balance in life. I want to create, pass on my knowledge and enjoy my family on top of it all. It’s exciting, scary and healthy all at the same time.”

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Cindee working on an art piece for a tradeshow booth.

An updated and artistic concrete fireplace.

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