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This image, designed by a collaboration of artists organized by Kent Scheer, will appear on a number of signs to help promote environmental awareness in the area. Submitted photo

Green-themed signs hot off the presses

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This past week, a new environmental awareness campaign that doubles as a public art project hit the presses at Greiman Printing & Office in Wadena.

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Kent Scheer said he will soon start distributing colorful signs for people to put on their lawns and other prominent places. Unlike political signs, however, these won't likely provoke passive-aggressive rage from neighbors.

Instead, Scheer and the multitude of Minnesota artists, poets and presses that worked on the signs over the course of two years hope that they will inspire discussion about the needs of nature.

"We think about this idea of leading by example, but what happens is, environmentalism doesn't show itself on the outside," Scheer said.

The main signs feature a circular image of a buzzing bee amidst vibrant-colored plants with the words "Take Care" underneath, along with a short, three-line message that encourages people to consider the environment.

Scheer said the idea for the project came from the old practice of tree farmers around Minnesota who put up public signs identifying themselves as such.

"Part of this idea came from the knowledge that Minnesotans who are tree farmers have always been very enthusiastic about declaring that commitment to forests," Scheer said. "Let's give the average person who has environmental interests an opportunity to declare that publicly."

After obtaining funding with the help of money that originated from the Minnesota State Legacy Amendment, one of the next steps was to commission various artists to create the design. One such creative mind was David Bengtson, a poet from Long Prairie, who created both the campaign's tagline of "Take Care" and part of the pro-Earth message that appears underneath it.

"The two words 'take care' came into my mind. They were there almost immediately," Bengtson said.

Bengtson thought of those words as being both simple and versatile, encompassing everything Scheer was trying to do by starting the project, he said.

The creative process didn't end with the artists simply handing in their work, however. Scheer was careful to gather the advice of other peers in the art community on what to keep and what to modify. One of the first people he went to was Jean Replinger, who he had met years before when he spent time at her artist's retreat. Although she has a cultured background, Replinger said she wanted the design to be appealing to the average Joe who may not have an English degree.

"What I thought about is, 'Well, people choose to display this. What would encourage them? What would they be proud and eager to display?'" Replinger said. "While we want to honor poets and we want to honor artists, this is about encouraging people to care for the land..."

Scheer said future plans for the project include creating 2-foot-long, 2-foot-wide signs with a simplified image and QR codes that people can scan with smartphones so as to link to a website with additional information on environmental issues.

The grant also includes plans to create a special "broadside" printing that features poetry by famed Minnesota author Todd Boss on the environment.

Scheer will begin distributing the signs for free at environmentally related conventions in March.

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