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400 Roses

Kristine Reiner's art career bloomed with the gift of 400 unwanted roses.

Somewhere there’s a young man who probably feels he wasted his money on 400 roses. His investment didn’t have the intended effect — which, of course, was to impress a particular young lady — but the roses have led to a lot of good in South Dakota.

It all began a half-dozen years ago when Kristine Reiner was studying art at the University of Sioux Falls and politely telling a boy that she wasn’t interested. With a final flourish of hope and desperation, he called a Sioux Falls florist and had 400 roses delivered to her. Four hundred divides into 33-and-a-half dozen; her tiny college apartment was red with flowers.

Reiner wasn’t raised to throw things away. She grew up in Canistota, the youngest of three daughters of a single mom. Even though her dad was in prison for drug use and her mom struggled to pay the bills, she remembers her small-town childhood with a smile. “As the youngest, I spent a lot of time alone,” she says. But that gave her time to think and dream and draw. In high school, art teacher William Cavill encouraged her. “He told me I could make a living by being creative. He was the first person to believe in my art.”

With that confidence, she enrolled at USF in 2012 and there she met Ceca Cooper, an art professor known for challenging students on the boundaries between man and nature. “I realized I was there to learn the rules of art so I could break them,” Kristine says. In her senior year in 2016, she was seeking inspiration for her final art project, while also trying to distance herself from that persistent suitor.

That’s when the roses arrived. They filled her little apartment, both in space and scent.

With her “waste not” mentality, she couldn’t bring herself to throw them in the garbage. “They wouldn’t have fit in the dumpster anyway,” she says. At first, she and a friend went to Wiley’s Bar in downtown Sioux Falls and sold them to guys who didn’t need to buy in bulk because they already had girls at their side. She netted $180, but she still had a lot of roses.

“I just couldn’t throw them away,” she says. “I always loved roses. That’s probably why he sent so many.”  She sat at home, surrounded by the flowers while also trying to imagine her final art project. It’s probably not shocking that she eventually brushed a rose against the canvas. She began to experiment with the flowers, not just as brushes but as elements within her paintings. She squished them and squeezed them. She broke boundaries.

Reiner's work is inspired by, and sometimes made from, roses.

Kristine Reiner is now a burgeoning Sioux Falls artist. She works as a graphic designer by day, teaches evening art classes and just finished a mural commissioned by the city at Eighth and Main. She’s also a community activist. “I love Sioux Falls. It’s my favorite city,” she says, because she feels support, just as she did while growing up in Canistota. “Artists have such an opportunity here because anyone can meet anyone anytime. You don’t have to be someone to have a chance.” The people of Canistota are still helping her as well; Sue Baxa, who runs a restaurant in the historic Ortman Hotel, exhibits Reiner’s paintings on her walls.

While Reiner continues to create — with clay, screen printing and often still painting with roses — she also practices her creativity on social issues. When she learned that some South Dakota school children were “lunch shamed” (refused food because they owed lunch money) she and her sister Brandie started a nonprofit called Cathy’s Place to help families pay school debts. “We didn’t always have enough money for lunches and activities when I was a kid, and there were always people who helped us,” she says, particularly a lady named Cathy Steinmetz. They’ve created a Facebook page, and a website is coming. The nonprofit also helps teachers buy school supplies.

When the pandemic of 2020 forced Reiner to cancel her art classes, she used the free time to sew designer face masks. They became a hit with friends, and now she sells them on her website,

The coronavirus also interrupted the corporate food chain, and she lamented the dilemma of farmers without a market. The crisis crystallized when her boyfriend, Damon Brown, learned that his family in Minnesota had been approached by the federal government for land to bury livestock that couldn’t be marketed. Together, they founded Cash Cow Co-op, an online directory that links farmers with families who want to buy local foods. They’ve already made connections across the Dakotas, Iowa and Minnesota.

All who like happy endings are wondering if Brown is the same guy who gave Reiner the 400 roses. He is not, but he shares her passion for making South Dakota a better place through creativity. What could be happier than that?

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the January/February 2021 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.


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