It’s been a project two years in the making, and it’s finally done.
Almost exactly two years after the Preston Area Arts Council first approved the idea of a community mural, on October 18 at 2 pm, it was dedicated to the community of Preston with a dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting.
Before the ceremony began, Arts Council member Father Francis Galles conducted a blessing of the mural, praying, “May it be the inspiration to draw forth even more creativity from the people proud to call this home.”
A dedication followed with presentations by Preston Mayor Kurt Reicks, co-chairs of the Arts Council, Gerrie Daley and Kay Spangler, and council member Melody Stockton. The ceremony ended with a ribbon cutting, in which all eight of the Arts Council members participated.
“At first it all seemed so overwhelming,” Gerrie Daley said about the process of getting started with the mural. “But little by little, the pieces just fell into place.”
The first step after the Arts Council decided to move forward with the mural was to find a place for it. Stockton suggested the large blank wall above the entrance to the city offices, and the rest of the board agreed
that that would be the perfect location.
A key part of the project was finding an artist with connections to Preston, and mural artist Alison Love Unzelman fit the bill. Unzelman grew up in Preston and, although she had moved away, she still had a lot of appreciation for the area. When she was approached about the project, she was excited to do it. She put together a rough sketch of a mural, being sure to incorporate things into the design that were symbolic of Preston.
Before the Arts Council could start working to obtain funds to help with the cost of the mural, they got an email from Preston librarian, Elizabeth Anderson. She knew of a grant program through Southeast Minnesota Libraries Cooperative and asked if they had any projects for which they could use the money. It was perfect timing. Anderson submitted a proposal for the grant under the library’s name as a partnership with the
Arts Council and was awarded $6,000 towards the mural.
The council also applied for an Arts and Cultural Heritage grant through the Southeast Minnesota Arts Council and received $10,000. The Preston Area Community Foundation donated another $2,000. A Paint the Town grant through the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation supplied $650 for the mural paint.
The City of Preston jumped on board with the project as well and approved the mural location. The side of the building needed some work done before the mural could be hung and so they started the repair and maintenance right away so it would be done in time.
By March of 2016, the Arts Council had all of the money lined up and had also received letters of support from the Fillmore Central school district and Christ Lutheran Church in Preston. The school’s art teacher, Ann Sparks, held a one week painting studio during her art class which allowed 331 elementary school children to participate in creating the mural. Christ Lutheran supplied space in their basement for two different weeks of a pop-up painting studio during which anyone could come and help paint a panel of the mural. “This really turned into a community collaboration,” Spangler said.
The pop-up studios had a great turn-out with painters ranging anywhere from six months old to 96 years old. Two four-generation families and several of three generations came to paint together. Even visitors from out-of-state and other areas in Minnesota helped. “People would say they couldn’t paint and didn’t know how, but once they came, they would come back to do it again,” Daley pointed out.
Unzelman completed the mural on April 24, 2017, and delivered it to the Arts Council on May 1. The council hired Rochester Sign Service, Inc. to hang the mural, who came up with a framework with plenty of support to hold the aluminum panels. “They took great care with each panel as they hung it so that the artwork would line up correctly and not get scratched during the process,” Unzelman said about the company. Unzelman supervised the installation to be sure that each panel was hung in the correct spot to assemble the mural. “It was really exciting watching the panels get installed above city hall,” she said. “I had not seen the mural as a whole since mid-February when I moved the panels to a space provided by Ken Geroux Construction Corporation in Big Lake, Minn. The owner generously provided space in his building so I could lay out all the panels and work on the mural as a whole. It gave me a chance to be sure that everything lined up from one panel to the next.” The City of Preston covered the costs for the framework and installation.
The dedicated members of the Arts Council were also present when the mural was installed. “They all worked tirelessly to bring this mural project to Preston,” Unzelman noted. “I also thought about all the members of the community who had a hand in painting the mural, all of the children at the elementary school who worked on it. This truly is a community mural.”
The mural will require very little upkeep as it was painted with a special outdoor mural paint that has a life of about 30 years. Unzelman also made sure to finish it with several layers of a special protective varnish.
Unzelman wasn’t able to attend the dedication on October 18 as she had a work conflict, but appreciated the time the Arts Council put into planning the event.
The Arts Council is currently selling 2018 calendars with pictures taken during the pop-up painting studios. “Anybody who participated, their picture is probably in it,” Daley said. The calendars are $20 apiece and can be purchased at the Preston Public Library or from any member of the Arts Council. The money will go towards paying for a plaque honoring the “Hooked on Preston” community mural collaborators.
The Arts Council is also working on a storybook of the project with Unzelman which will include many of the pictures taken during its duration, a chapter of acknowledgement for everyone who donated, and a chapter on the various project partners.
Unzelman is always on the look-out for her next opportunity to design and paint another mural. Anyone interested can email her at EcoBangleLove@gmail.com.