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Deborah Mitchell said that the biggest surprise for many at her upcoming exhibit would be the fact that she was an artist.

"A lot of people don't realize that," Mitchell said. "I'm a professor at the School of Mines and the director of Apex Gallery, so I'm always promoting other artists."

But Mitchell will have her time in the limelight with "Refuge," an exhibit that will debut at the Dahl Arts Center on Friday and run until Aug. 27. An artist's reception will take place at 5 p.m. Friday night.

Indeed, though Mitchell said it had been some time since she had a place to show her work, she is a respected artist in South Dakota. A third-generation artist and a teacher of art and art history, Mitchell was among six artists awarded the South Dakota Arts Council's Artist Fellowships in 2015. "Refuge" will show the breadth of her work, with a selection of abstract monotypes from her time traveling abroad alongside large-scale drawings inspired by her hikes in the Black Hills.

"Environment is everything to be because I'm very attuned to light and certain physical situations, color," said Mitchell, of Rapid City. "I'm always looking for built and natural environments, for abstract visual images in them."

That's what Mitchell said she was doing when she traveled to Greece in 2006.

"I walked up to the Acropolis, and saw how marble stairs had been worn through eons and millions who walked up them, and I got chills," Mitchell said. "I wanted to cry."

She returned to the Mediterranean last year when she visited Turkey, taking in the history of the Byzantine empire, the Persians, the Greeks, and other history there, as well as its current arts scene, the refugee crisis, and the financial crisis in the Mediterranean.

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"I originally thought of 'refuge' in terms of the refugee crisis, but I'm not a political artist," Mitchell said. "I couldn't address it that way, so I started thinking of the term in a general sense. The beauty of the Mediterranean is a refuge, the land, the vastness of it."

When Mitchell returned home and earned the Arts Fellowship, she proposed to focus on the flora and fauna of the Black Hills.

"I brought in elements from the outdoors inside my studio during winter," Mitchell said. "That's a refuge from the elements outdoors. But it's also about finding refuge in my art, or in my garden, or being in tune with the cold, the rain, the heat, the natural elements."

Mitchell said that she hoped people would find the joy in the patterns, be they natural or the "layers of time" she sees in built environments.

"I hope they take away that feeling of beauty I see in the world wherever I go," Mitchell said.

Contact Max B. O'Connell at 394-8427 or max.oconnell@rapidcityjournal.com

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