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New York Mills mural paints a picture of local history

This scene from the new community-made mural in New York Mills shows the historically and biologically accurate detail used. Submitted photo

A new mural that depicts the history of New York Mills is nearing completion; the project's director, Pam Robinson, began detail work last week.

With a touch of a brush, feathers formed on wings, veins appeared on leaves and a solid mass of green became individual strands of grass. After these and other finishing touches are complete, a final weather-protecting coat will be applied to the mural, Robinson explained.

The mural, along with benches, statues and an outdoor stage, are part of a project begun this summer to provide a space for neighborhood gatherings. This new 'green space' will be located behind the NY Mills Regional Cultural Center. The giant mural is attached to the west side of Sugar Creek Woodworking.

In an interview, Robinson explained how the mural came together.

Before painting began last month, Robinson and other volunteers searched through history, wildlife and science books, as well as records at the Minnesota Historical Society, in order to build a biologically and historically accurate mural of the NY Mills area.

Though Robinson was the only painter on site last week, 19 volunteers ranging in age from four to 65 helped throughout August. The group decided to feature three different time periods in NY Mills history, portrayed within the four seasons.

The crew worked hard to incorporate precise details in order to make the scenes realistic. Even a bucket strapped to a tree collecting maple sap was sketched using historical photos.

And the Mallard painted above the wild rice incorporates a fact of nature: that ducks are a big part of the natural cultivating process.

Robinson said a diverse bunch of people helped out, with varying talents and ideas. As director of the project, she said, "I'm a bit of a traffic cop, figuring out people's assets" and then utilizing their abilities.

Using a layered approach, the first step in creating the mural was to block in areas with a solid color. An entire field was painted green and the sky area was totally blue. Rough shapes of birds, trees and other mammals were painted in basic whites and browns, void of detail.

NY Mills resident Heather Cassidy and her two sons, Aedan and Nolan, helped with the first layer. Heather painted the sky, while the boys painted the sandy bottom area.

Heather said she really wanted her kids to be part of this historical project, because they will always be able to show others the parts they painted.

After the first layer dried, depth was added to the scene by placing things at different heights to depict distance - the farther away the image was supposed to be, the higher on the canvas it was painted.

The final step - the detail work - is meant more for a steady hand, and is being done by Robinson.

A mural is an evolving piece of art, Robinson explained. Sometimes more detail was added to make a scene appear more real. For example, fungus was added to an oak stump that morel mushrooms were growing around, since morels typically grow near rotting wood.

Plants, animals, birds and bugs found in the mural are native to the NY Mills area, and the traditional activities are also true to the area.

In addition to the maple syrup and wild rice scenes, the mural also depicts the first Lund boat.

The only scene left to paint, which will be six panels on its own, will depict traits of NY Mills' early history - logging, Finnish families and harsh winters.

After Robinson completes the detailing of the spring, summer and fall scenes, she hopes to complete the remaining winter scene with help from students of NY Mills School.

The entire mural is expected to be complete in October.