- Associated Press - Monday, October 27, 2014

WITTENBERG, Wis. (AP) - Music from the punk-influenced Nightmare Boys, country legend Johnny Cash and hip-hop turntable specialists the Beat Junkies echoed from a boombox and filled the air of the empty lot on the south side of Resch Lanes.

The sun had finally appeared after two days of off and on rain and Adam Turman and Brian Geihl were making the most of the break in the weather. The Twin Cities artists and their music stood out on this day but their emerging 104-foot-long and 13-foot-high mural fit right in on the side of the village’s lone bowling alley.

“My impression of a mural is it needs to attract attention, hopefully, in a positive way,” Turman said as he worked on an outline of a deer hunter aiming a rifle. “If it puts a smile on your face, a mural is doing its job. They’re just really fun, regardless of what they are.”

And fun they have had here in an effort to draw in visitors off the Highway 29 bypass, the Wisconsin State Journal (https://bit.ly/1t4qPmc ) reported.

For the last 10 years, this Shawano County community of a little more than 1,000 people has been raising money and recruiting artists to create murals on its buildings. So far, 23 have been painted and more are planned, making it one of the most ambitious mural projects in the state.

The hope is that while driving or walking the village to see the murals, visitors will stop at Nueske’s for applewood smoked meats, a tap of beer at Klinker’s Bar or a decadent maple fritter filled with chunks of bacon at Lisa’s Sweet Shoppe Bakery & Catering.

Besides the murals, visitors can also enjoy the downtown art park that features bronze and steel sculptures. Next door to the park is the WOWSPACE, an acronym for the Walls of Wittenberg Special Projects and Community Enhancement, a restored late-1800s cream-colored brick building that is home to an art gallery and hosts events throughout the year on its original red and yellow birch floor.

“We hope that they bring pride to the community,” Elaine Diffor, a former educator who is now the WOW coordinator, said of the community’s art. “It’s fun and I’ve met so many wonderful people.”

Like most small towns in our state, and even the big ones, maintaining a vibrant downtown is no easy task. The Wittenberg mural project is modeled after one in Lake Placid, Florida, that has 30 murals and was discovered by Lois Smith, a Wittenberg resident.

Now, it’s not uncommon for bus tours to make stops in Wittenberg and for others to plan a day around the murals. When we were there in late September, we ran into Ron Van Derra of Appleton and nine others who were just completing a three-hour stop that included walking through the downtown.

“We saw them all today,” Van Derra said. “The Packers one was the best.”

He was referring to the 90-foot-long and 14-foot high “Go Pack Go” mural on the side of Hanke’s Sentry Foods. The mural, completed in the fall of 2013, was created by artists Alecia Rheal of Madison and Carole Bersin, an Illinois native living in Minneapolis. Neither woman knew much about football prior to the project but were obviously quick studies. The mural includes images of Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi, and a player riding a child’s bicycle. Donald Driver is in the midst of a Lambeau Leap.

Rheal’s work includes murals at Epic Systems Corp. in Verona, the Iowa County Chamber of Commerce and the Cross Plains Public Library. In 2012, Bersin founded Ragged Dog Walls, a company that helps communities create murals.

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But Wittenberg is not alone in Wisconsin when it comes to mural projects.

Susan Sampson has created 53 murals, including more than 20 for Black River Falls. Instead of painting directly on a wall, however, she uses 4-by-8 wood panels, which are created in her studio and then attached to the side of a building. It’s not uncommon for her to board a tour bus and give rolling talks about her work, which includes nine murals in Wisconsin Rapids.

“History never goes out of style,” said Sampson, who began painting signs for dairy farms before transitioning into murals.

Other communities with ambitious mural projects include Stevens Point, where the old U.S. Post Office is depicted on the side of the existing Post Office while other murals show influential people and events and the region’s logging history.

Ashland has 16 murals, the first painted in 1998, according to artist Susan Prentice Martinsen, who has teamed with Kelly Meredith on the massive works of art that depict the Lake Superior community’s history. The largest, of what is called the Ashland Mural Walk, spans 125 feet and shows the now razed ore dock. A mural celebrating the women of Ashland will be painted next summer.

“We do research and make calls to the public and they send us photographs,” Martinsen said. “The story we tell is actually the story of the public.”

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Wittenberg was established in 1882 and for nearly two decades was home to a controversial Indian mission school for the Winnebago children that lived in the region. A mural on the side of Esker’s Hardware honors Native American culture and includes the creation story of the Menominee people and floral and leaf designs of the Winnebago, Potowatami and Ho-Chunk.

But each mural, while different, includes a common face. Under the rules of WOW, the Rev. E.J. Homme must be included in each mural. Homme founded the community and Homme’s Orphan and Old Folks Home in 1882. Now called Homme Homes, the church-based organization provides senior housing options in Wittenberg and Wausau.

In some of the murals, Homme is easily found. In others, like the mural completed in 2007 on the Village Inn at the corner of Webb and Vinal Street, his image is the size of a silver dollar.

As he painted the outdoor-themed art on the bowling alley, Turman wouldn’t tell where Homme would be placed on the mural.

The painting includes images of deer hunting, fishing, wild turkey and snowmobiling. Turman worked with the WOW committee to come up with the design and found out about the project because a friend of his was the niece of someone on the committee.

Turman, 39, who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1999 with a graphic arts degree, said the committee asked for sketches before he met with them in July to further discuss the project.

“They’re a little bit more analog in how they meet with clients,” Turman said. “I’m very digital so a lot of my clients I never have even heard their voice; it’s all email. Other clients are more hands-on like these guys.”

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Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, https://www.madison.com/wsj

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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