The City of Ashland added to its fame as “The Mural Capital of Wisconsin” on Saturday, with the dedication of the city’s 18th public art display, highlighting the wonders of the Apostle Islands.
The artwork shows off the magnificent scenery of the Islands in 14 postcard-like displays on the former Wallie Motors Building sidewall facing Ninth Avenue West. Ashland Mural Walk President Lynn Adams said the mural, rendered by Ashland artist Sue Martinsen, was the result of collaboration between the Mural Walk Committee and The Friends of the Apostle Islands organization.
“We were really honored to have them work with us to honor the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service,” she said.
While in the past, the Mural Walk subjects have been historic people from the past, the Apostle Islands murals focus on the beauty of the “Crown Jewels of Lake Superior” and their awe-inspiring beauty.
Although the mural focuses on a place rather than persons, Adams said the departure from past practice is still well within the guidelines of the Mural Walk’s purpose.
“We always do historical murals in Ashland, and this is very historical. The Islands have been around for a long time,” she said.
Artist Sue Martinsen said when she was approached about doing a mural that would depict the Park Service’s 100th anniversary celebration, there was considerable debate about how to do that.
“The discussion was that you simply paint the beauty of the Islands and let them speak for themselves,” she said.
The location works well for the mural, Martinsen said.
“The Friends of the Apostles and the National Park Service were anxious to have something that was close to the water, something that was connected to that and I think this was a perfect space, and I have to thank Pat Hunt for allowing us to use the side of his building for it,” she said.
Martinsen said she found herself experiencing each of the scenes as she painted it.
“When I did the stormy seas scene, I found myself thinking about how cold and stormy it can get. When I did the one of the northeast shore at Stockton Island my granddaughter said, ‘Oh grandma, that looks just like the icy cold blue water of Lake Superior. In doing the other murals I like to talk to people about them, and in this one, I let the scenes talk to me.”
At the dedication was Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Superintendent Bob Krumenaker. He said the dedication ceremony was the culmination of two years of effort to make the mural a reality.
“Two years of planning has turned into something that is absolutely beautiful,” he said. “We are just delighted that the park is physically represented in Ashland. It’s just another symbol of what a great relationship the Park and Ashland have.”
Krumenaker said the 100-year history of the National Park Service is well documented elsewhere, and said the mural displaying the Islands themselves helped to “broaden the picture.”
“The first words in the law that created the National Parks were about protecting scenery, so this mural features the scenery, the natural resources and a little bit about the recreation of the park, and we think it’s a great complement to the rest,” he said.
Krumenaker said the mural was “absolutely delightful.”
“When you look at it up close, the experience is different than when you look at it from a block away. There are subtleties and colors; it is a really nice overview of why this place is so cool,” he said.
Krumenaker said the mural was a valuable addition showing the cooperation of the park and area communities.
“To have Ashland welcome the National Park so overtly, is wonderful,” he said.
Erica Peterson, president of Friends of the Apostle Islands, told the dedication audience that there was great reason to celebrate both the centennial of the National Park Service, and “this incredibly beautiful mural.”
She thanked President Woodrow Wilson, who signed legislation bringing the National Parks Service into existence.
“We thank him for the 410 Park units that are out there, 59 of them National parks,” she said.
She noted that the Friends of the Apostle Islands had been working for the betterment of the National Lakeshore since 2003.
“We continue to work towards that endeavor into the future,” she said. “Helping to find the park as a place that is more than just a place to visit — a place to love and study and understand its significance.”
Peterson said the National Parks would be more important than ever in the future.
“As we go into a time period where the world is growing faster, where it is more congested and noisier, these green areas and these National Parks are going to be so necessary, not only for our souls, but for the health of our communities,” she said.
State Representative Beth Meyers said the mural would pique the interest of people who viewed it and encourage them to visit the National Lakeshore.
“We can imagine what it would be like to have our feet in the sand or bundling up to visit the ice caves,” she said. “I think this will bring a new experience for people who live in the area and who visit the area, so they can embrace what some people think we take for granted, but I don’t think so. We are just so fortunate to have this in our back yard.”
State Senator Janet Bewley said the mural was “quite breathtaking.”
Bewley said the Ashland murals were more than art.
“They are stories of people’s lives,” she said. “One of the things that makes this mural unique is that it is not just the natural landscape,” she said. “Human presence is part of the story of the islands. It is the natural landscape that interacts with people. That history is represented here. The stories of people are represented here.”
Martinsen concluded the ceremony by thanking the various photographers whose photographs served as the basis for the mural. She also thanked the Friends of the Apostle Islands and the Mural Walk officials. She also recognized the importance of donors who made the entire Mural Walk project possible.
“We have an incredible community. One brick at a time, one scene at a time, the community supports these murals,” she said.
Martinson said she had been asked when she would lay her paint brushes aside and stop doing murals.
“I wonder that myself,” she said. “But we have probably four or five murals in the works, because the community wants them,” she said.
Martinsen said that a diverse community, like that of the Bay Area, all had differing interests, but could still work together.
“Every one of us comes here for a different reason, every one of us enjoys the Island for a different reason. But we can all come together and accomplish something when we have a common goal, and I am grateful for that,” she said.