Neighborhood of murals

Kingfield tries to make an artistic name for itself with an aggressive mural-sponsorship program

Terre Thomas has a favorite tree atop a hill along King’s Highway on her jogging route past Lyndale Park. In August, that tree will be painted on the stucco wall of her gift shop, Fairy Godmother, at 3801 Grand Ave.

Thomas’s mural will be one of five done in the Kingfield neighborhood this summer as part of a $15,000 business facade improvement program sponsored by the Kingfield Neighborhood Association (KFNA) and underwritten by Minneapolis Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP).

Kingfield has been one of the most aggressive neighborhoods encouraging murals. The neighborhood association has already helped decorate 10 business walls since 2003.

In May, KFNA held an open house so Kingfield business owners could examine the portfolios of eager artists. The artists earned $1,500 in 2003 and $2,000 in 2004. The businesses paid the muralists and were reimbursed by the KNA through NRP grants.

Thomas chose Bemidji artist Mary Therese Peterson to paint a mural in a style reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh’s "Starry Night."

"It felt like a very good choice because it seems like a real sacred tree to me," Thomas said. "The east side of the mural will have the morning sky, and as the scene progresses around the tree it will take on the shape of the afternoon sun and culminate with the evening sky."

Across Grand Avenue, Nikki Brovold, owner of Luckygirl Gourmet Grocery has an even more ambitious project. She picked two University of Minnesota students, Kristin Abhalter and Joanne Jongsma, who are working towards their master’s degrees in theater design, to do an abstract blue-and-green mural inspired by Mexican artist Gunther Gerzso, who did much of his best work in the 1960s.

Said Abhalter, "Nikki wanted something of an invented cityscape to make you think of a city, but not of skyscrapers. We wanted to give it a topographical quality with some depth and perspective. We chose icy light blues and greens for the gray brick wall."

This summer, Brovold’s husband Karl Aarsheim, a sculptor, will also construct a three-dimensional bus shelter in front of the mural. Using the panels of the existing shelter, Aarsheim will create an arty stucco shelter painted with the same blues and greens as the mural behind it.

The other three sites scheduled to be painted this year are at Curran’s Family Restaurant at 4201 Nicollet Ave., Spectrum Travel at 3600 Nicollet Ave., and Nicollet Auto Service at 3611 Nicollet Ave. Some of the murals are to be as large as 800 square feet.

Sarah Linnes-Robinson, KFNA’s NRP coordinator, said the program is intended to bring more artwork into Kingfield and make the murals a neighborhood calling card.

"When you drive through Kingfield, you are going to engulfed with art," Linnes-Robinson said.

Kingfield artist Tammy Ortegon, whose new mural is on the Grand Avenue side of Peter Pan Dry Cleaners, 327 W. 38th St., said, "Something magical happens in the neighborhood when you paint murals. It is more than just painting. It brightens things up in the neighborhood and brings something very special to the community."

Ortegon saw this herself.

"When I was painting my mural, buses honked while driving by and people put their thumbs up," she said. "People would stop by and talk about what we were doing and offer encouragement. One day, Mayor R.T. Rybak drove by with his family and stopped his car to say how much he liked it."

Ortegon said murals have a bonus benefit: graffiti taggers don’t usually deface a mural-painted wall because it is adorned with art.

Not exactly canvas

Muralists’ techniques vary. Some make a slide of their mural and with a projector show the image on the wall and trace it out. Some use a grid, others trace it out free hand in chalk. All use exterior house paint because it must hold up to the extremes of the Minneapolis climate.

The different painting surfaces include brick, cement and cinder block walls. Each wall needs as many as three coats of white primer before the artwork can begin. Ortegon said that of the surfaces, brick is hardest to paint on because it is porous and sucks up the paint. The brick texture and grooves also make it really difficult to detail faces.

In addition to painting, the artists also supervise teenage volunteers who contribute to the image while they learn about design and painting.

Ironically, while Ortegon depicted the streetscape of all the businesses located at 38th & Grand, their actual names were omitted. That’s because city zoning ordinances prohibit advertising, and listing the stores’ actual names would have violated the law.

In addition to Ortegon’s mural, others at the intersection include three dogs under hair driers outside the Groomsmen, a dog-grooming salon at 313 W. 38th St. and the Cuban African goddess Yemaya at Peterson’s Flowers 410 W. 38th St.

They join other murals in Kingfield, including one at Westrum’s Tavern at 4415 Nicollet Ave. that was done privately, and Anodyne Coffeehouse at 4301 Nicollet Ave. that was done in the late 1990s with help from a KFNA pilot program that set the stage for the current mural program.

Even with total program expenses topping $20,000, Linnes-Robinson said no one has ever complained about spending taxpayer money on the murals. More are planned for next summer.