Looking at one of Bill Manske’s paintings is some of the best people-watching you’ll find in Minnesota.
“I paint pictures with a lot of people in them,” the Edina artist says. “Thousands of people. If you look at all the people I stick in there, I have fun with them.” Using gouache or oils, Manske creates imaginative scenes based on nostalgic imagery he remembers from his decades living in the Twin Cities. Drawing on his own interests, he lets imagination take the next step.
He describes his style as “fun and kind of whimsical.”
Manske’s work has been selected for juried exhibitions at the Minnesota State Fair. An especially popular piece depicts the State Fair’s Midway. The image, born from his own fascination with the midway, depicts bustling nightlife.
Places where people gather are a common theme in Manske’s work—a small-town parade, the old Excelsior amusement park, and an orchestra concert are a of the few scenes he has depicted.
A piece he considers one of his best shows 50th and France back in the 1950s. “I had some good times there,” he says. “I go back to my past a little bit, re-create it and I paint it.”
The Minnesota native has lived in Edina since 1955. Like many creatives, Manske remembers getting his artistic start in childhood. In high school, he was considered the go-to student for creating programs and posters for school events. His passion led him to graduate from the Minneapolis School of Art, (now Minneapolis College of Art and Design). He joined the Navy, and created a popular comic strip for his ship’s newspaper. The influence of graphic novels and comic books can still be seen in his work today.
After the Navy, Manske worked at Minneapolis ad agencies and then became an instructor at Hennepin Technical College. Now retired, he continues to make art in his basement studio, where he can sometimes be found making special editions of his creations for friends and family. “I did great big caricatures of my grandchildren and put them in their driveway for their graduations,” he says. “I’ve sent crazy Christmas cards every year since 1955. I think they’re kind of nutty.”
In his long career in the arts, Manske has seen the changes technology has brought to his field. “Everything has changed so much today through computers. A lot of people are into the graphic arts area,” he says. “That’s good. That’s wonderful that so many people can get involved in the creative end of things.”
Manske acknowledges that it can be hard to break into a career in any of the arts, but his advice to aspiring artists is encouraging. “If you like to draw, paint, do it. Be dedicated to it,” he says. “Being a true creative at anything is a great feeling.”