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Artists to be recognized in Wadena's Murals of Minnesota History dedication

Dee Skogen, Gail Leverson and Madeline Ramirez will be among the 40 talented artists recognized on June 27 during the dedication of Wadena's Murals of Minnesota History Project.

Over the last several years, volunteers and artists donated more than $300,000 in time, talent and labor to produce 95 murals on cement board. These panels have been installed throughout the Wadena community and represent 1,000 years of Minnesota history. The murals cover more than 1,475,000 square inches and could eventually constitute the world's largest picture puzzle.

June 27 has been designated as a day of tours, dedication and music to celebrate the completion of this project. A recognition program is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. at the Emporium in downtown Wadena.

Skogen's work has been seen around Wadena for many years.

"I have been painting murals and touches in people's homes for years," Skogen said. "So I have a file cabinet full of resource pictures. Whatever theme the murals were to be, I had lots of images to work from. I also used the public library many times. On several of the murals around town, Gail Leverson worked with me. She plans her areas out well, and her finished project is almost exact to her plans. Where I, on the other hand, do some basic drawing but usually I just start and go where the music takes me.

"Together Gail and I did the four seasons on the Currie's building," Skogen continued. "We also had help by some children and a parent on that one. We also did the Minnesota entertainers on the Cozy Theater. I painted the fireman mural to commemorate 125 years of volunteer Firemen in Wadena. Those murals are part of the Alley Arts Project (now known as Murals of Minnesota History). Gail and I also painted the ocean scene on the four walls of the swimming pool building which was the first mural in town. Then a few years later we did the north woods on the bath house at Sunnybrook Park. Personally, I've done several mini murals around town: the front of the Ben Franklin store, the planter in front of Humphrey Manor, and many in private homes and churches. I'm glad I was able to do some of the murals."

Ramirez has been painting with acrylics for many years.

"I am a very shy person in regards to what I paint and didn't think that I would be up for the challenge," she said. "I had never done anything like that. I paint sunflower fields, women and flowers. So, I got to thinking about my culture how it is very matriarchal, men are always in front but women are always the one doing the work. The farming community in the early 1900s was a great deal like this, women birthing children out in the field and then returning to work right after. All the work women do and who are we? Why was there not a tribute to all the work we had done and keep on doing? So, I passed the idea on to [Murals project coordinator] Dave [Evert] and he approved it; thus the mural. The mural contains two women. One is pregnant and the other is helping her out in the field. In the background you will see a man plowing the field and a young girl milking a cow. That was pretty much the planning for the mural. The mural is at the Wadena Eye Clinic building in town, on their south wall. This was actually my first mural so I was very worried it would not turn out as I imagined. But I am pleased with it. I felt very privileged to be asked to do a mural since I had not done one before. It is a little scary to know everyone sees your work and has their own opinions; but rewarding nonetheless. It was a good experience for me."

With the experience of working on this mural, Ramirez continues to work in this larger format.

"I am working on a children's mural with my brother at a private residence," she said.

Local businesses, individuals and organizations donated materials, time, labor and encouragement for the project. The Initiative Foundation, Five Wings Regional Arts Council, Wadena Lions Club, Wadena State Bank, and Mid-Central Federal Savings Bank are among those supporters.

"I think this is a great project on several levels, from an economic advantage standpoint, a visual arts asset and as a community building activity," said Dan Frank, the Initiative Foundation's program manager for community development at the inception of the project.

Dean Uselman, a member of both the city council when the program was initiated, and the Wadena Fire Department, appreciated the vision of the project's planners.

"I think this is a very unique and creative project that will benefit Wadena for years to come," Uselman said. "Many communities have a mural or two but none that I am aware of, anywhere, have a collection like this. It really is an asset to market the community."

Shirley Uselman, executive director of the Wadena Chamber of Commerce, has been in a position to observe the effects of the project on the community.

"The murals of Wadena not only bring in business, they offer travelers a break and a chance to stretch their legs," she said. "While wandering the alleyways, many people take the time to stop not only at a restaurant but in several of our businesses. Visitors comment about the feel of shopping in a small town and how helpful and knowledgeable our merchants are. We receive numerous comments on the complexity and history of the murals and have had many travelers stop just because they see them. With such a unique opportunity, we are weighing options and ideas for marketing the mural project."

Five Wings Regional Arts Council Executive Director Mark Turner has watched the development of the project for several years.

"The Five Wings Arts Council applauds the great work of Dave Evert and the Alley Art Institute for their accomplishments in Wadena," Turner said. "I remember attending the unveiling ceremony for the first mural several years ago and have been continually impressed with each additional work of art installed. Five Wings is proud to have provided support for the project in the past and looks forward to a continued relationship supporting the creative visioning for the Wadena area."

The artists who worked on the Murals of Minnesota History

Robin Barcus, Las Vegas

Michael Beachy, Blufton

Chuck Richards, Wadena

Michael Beachy, Bluffton

Gail Leverson, Wadena

Adam Leverson, Wadena

Tessa Kirkland

Lynn Kirkland

Samantha Kirkland

Dee Skogen, Hewitt

Emily Ament, Wadena

Jim Formanek, Wadena

Dustin Hadeen, New York Mills

Pam Robinson, New York Mills

Hope Baldwin, Ottertail

Dixon Bordiano, Minneapolis

James Penfield, Minneapolis

Brenda Taylor, Minneapolis

Nancy Leasman, Long Prairie

Shar Schley, Bloomington

Karen Goulet, White Earth Tribal College, Mahnomen

Renee LaFriniere-Prince, Mahnomen

David Rock, Mahnomen

Joyce Jackson Arndt, Verndale

Kathy Bauck, New York Mills

Maddie Powers, Verndale

John Pierce, Verndale

Kent Scheer, Wadena

Cliff Stone Jr., Oklahoma

Leah Prussia, Calloway

Marty Two Bulls, Sante Fe

Lara Fahnlander, Shakopee

Beth Luukkonen Kern, Wadena

Seexeng Lee, Nikki Yang, Patua Yang

Chang Vang and Mai Youg Xiang, Vadnais Heights

David Evert, Bloomington

Laura Moe, Perham