Joseph Alexander


I am an artist. In addition to my own work, I own and run an art school in Rochester, Driftless Art Academy, which just opened in 2021.


Tell us about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career with your business.

Definitely opening Driftless Art Academy and taking on my own students. There was a real need for an art school with a comprehensive instruction program, and being able to provide that is richly fulfilling.

Tell us about a recent project or problem that you made better, faster, smarter, more efficient, or less expensive.

Photo – Joseph Alexander

My experience has been that quality and efficiency are the product of knowledge and experience. Art is a great example of this. Many people approach art thinking that they can teach themselves how to paint or draw. And to a point, they may be able to do that. But the knowledge and skill that leads to real accomplishment, and work that knocks your socks off, comes from knowing what you are doing.


Tell us about one person that you’ve met, that stands apart from the rest, or has influenced you while here in the Driftless.

There are many great artists living in the Driftless, and I would encourage everyone to get out and find them. We have outstanding museums, galleries, and art communities here, and the arts are playing an increasingly strong role in local culture. Join the art community and be a part of what is happening!


What do you wish other people knew about you or your business?

Don’t let a belief that you need some sort of inborn talent stop you from becoming an artist. There really is no such thing. What we perceive as talent is the product of knowledge, experience, and perseverance. I can teach you the knowledge and technical skills, and I can provide you with plenty of opportunity for experience. Perseverance is the part you need to bring with you.



So, what’s your story? What keeps you here in the Driftless?


I’m a north-coaster since the beginning. I’ve lived in the Driftless most of the last 20 years, both in Wisconsin and in Minnesota. The people and the landscape here are amazing. If you are in the mood for lakes, we have them. Rivers? Plenty. Big hills? Got ’em. Woods? No prob. Plains? Plentiful. I love the parks and other public lands, and the rolling farmlands. Every town has its own personality.

How would you describe yourself?

I am a multipotentiate who has been fortunate to experience a great many things.

What is your biggest accomplishment?

What do you mean by biggest? Largest? I built a cabin once. Hardest? I ran the Leadville Trail Race… twice. Most significant? I paint portraits that should last hundreds of years. Most meaningful? Definitely my family. Proudest? Opening Driftless Art Academy in Rochester.

Have you read any good books?

I always have a stack of books going. I’ve been on a B. A. Shapiro kick recently; a writer of art-related stories. I recently finished The Go-Giver, which is about giving more than is expected in business. I am currently reading a classic Japanese historical fiction book called Musashi, Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, and a biography called A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell. If I was going to make a gift to every person of one book, it would be James Clear’s Atomic Habits.

Who is your personal hero?

My personal hero is my husband, who puts up with so much and still zooms in every time to save me from whatever cliff I am about to fall off.

Do you have a life philosophy that you live by?


Yes, and it is this: It does not matter who or what is to blame for things about myself that I would like to be different. It doesn’t matter that I have special circumstances, or that there are particular events that contribute to my challenges. There is only one person who can make the changes that must happen if I am to become the person I wish to be, and that person is me. Blaming someone else will never help.

What do you like most about yourself?

My constant need to improve myself.

If you could change the world, what would you change?

Give everyone the gift of tolerance and acceptance.

What do you think is the meaning of life?

I have so many smartass answers to this question. But the meaning of life is lifting up others in our families and communities.

Do you prefer working alone, or do you like working with others?

I love being a part of a community of artists, and being in my studio with other artists working.

What is your deepest belief about life? – Community is everything.

If you could be doing anything, anywhere right now, what and where would it be?

Painting in my studio, which is where I was before I started on these questions, and where I will be soon after I finish them.

What’s the one thing you wish you could have a do-over for?

Ms Peggy Durant.

I would avoid borrowing money or acquiring burdensome possessions. These are the things that will stand in the way of the things anyone wishes to do.

How do you work on yourself?

I have been practicing Zen Buddhism for about 20 years. Zen gives me the space within myself to let the pieces fall into place, and to see the things that I should work on.

What’s one thing you’ve had to overcome in your life?

I have lost about 250 pounds by adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet.

How do you handle being in a bad mood?

The best for me is to stop what I am doing and think about who I am, and who I wish to be. Why am I in a bad mood? Often I just need to eat something!

Who is the most important person in your life? – Most important: me! Without me, I wouldn’t be here.

What did you learn about yourself from any of your previous relationships?

Probably that I am not the perfect half that I thought I would be, when I was younger.

What is your favorite type of music,  song, or song you think a person should listen to at least once?

There aren’t many types of music that I don’t enjoy. I am a fan of coffee-house indy and folk, but also like a lot of pop, global, and ethnic music. I think one important composer to listen to now is Max Richter—nearly everyone will recognize some of his music from movies and television. He is composing some massively inspiring work right now. Listen to his album Voices, and if you enjoy classical, his awesome recomposed version of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.

If you weren’t here running your business or doing the work you do, what would you be doing instead?

Probably working in the parks as a naturalist. I did that as a side job for several years and really loved it.

How has this pandemic affected YOU or YOUR BUSINESS here in the Driftless? 

I opened my business in the middle of the pandemic, which anyone could argue was not the smartest decision. But so far, the business is doing well. I think that the pandemic has led many people to refocus on themselves, and to expanding their interests or skill sets. Nothing like an art school to help with that!

What is another name you would give the Driftless?

Photo – Joseph Alexander

My father-in-law, the geology professor, would argue that this really is not a driftless area, and we should call it the Paleozoic Plateau. Somehow that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well as Driftless.

Favorite season in the Driftless & why?

Fall, no question. It is the time of the harvest, color, and our desperate clinging to the life of summer while we relish the cooler temperatures, the smell of leaves, and nice-looking sweaters.

Tell us of an experience /memory you had with Driftless lakes, rivers or waterways?

I was a naturalist at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park. What I loved most about that job was doing programs that led people along the rivers to find hidden waterfalls and springs, and helped them learn about the magic of our landscape’s water systems.

Is there any place in the world you have been that reminds you of, or is similar to the Driftless.

The rolling hills and low mountains of the east coast are quite similar to Driftless topography, though technically our hills are river valleys. Like the Driftless, some areas out east have fascinating little towns tucked away, each with its own personality and secrets to discover.

What is your best childhood memory?

As I child I would spend all day exploring in the mountains of Vermont, discovering new things, seeing wildlife, and often never seeing another person. That was magical.

What are some of your favorite places to go for fun here in the Driftless?

It’s hard to beat my studio, but to get away from it all I like to head out to the state parks, particularly Whitewater, Forestville, and the incredible John Latsch State Park outside Winona. I also take a lot of joy from going to the small towns in our area like Lanesboro and Red Wing.

Favorite places to eat here in the Driftless?

Number one is Old Abe’s in Rochester, which may be the only purely vegan restaurant in southeastern Minnesota. I can go there and relax about the food. Forager is a great restaurant and microbrewery. We have a nice burger place in Rochester called Hot Chip which has a broad vegan menu, including vegan shakes, and the food there is delicious.

If you were to tell a friend to come and visit the Driftless Area, and they ask “Why” … What would you tell them?

Tom Jackson

The Driftless is on the verge of a forward push, culturally. We have diversity of population, education, and people of conscience, and the arts are going to explode here. There aren’t many places that have the variety of landscape, seasons, and outdoor activities we do. At the same time, there is less urban pressure in our area. Things move a little slower.

Cat or Dog person? – Dog

Early Bird or Late Owl? – Late Owl

If given the opportunity, would you go to outer space? – No

What color socks are you currently wearing? – Green

What skill or instrument would you like to learn or play? – Oboe

What 1 message would you put in a bottle? – Be gentle

What was your very first job? – Taking care of insect collections (really).

If any, what would be your dream job? – I’m doing it already.

How / where did you meet your best friend?

We met online, on an old blogging site called LiveJournal. Later, we met in a hot tub.

What does your dream vacation look like?

A month or two in Europe, taking our time to visit great art.

Tell us a short joke or punchline. – Midvale. If you know, you know.

If you could learn another language, what would that be? – Japanese

I Would Rather … – Live in a tree house.