Work of artPublic art changes the way you see things, according to Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton. It can make you look twice, put a smile on your face, inspire you to create or bring back memories. The new Palace Mural Project, coming to life one brushstroke at a time on the back wall of the Douglas County Historical Society, does all of the above.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Public art changes the way you see things, according to Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton. It can make you look twice, put a smile on your face, inspire you to create or bring back memories. The new Palace Mural Project, coming to life one brushstroke at a time on the back wall of the Douglas County Historical Society, does all of the above.
“We really feel like it puts us on the map now,” said DCHS President Valerie Hiatt Burke.
For many, the mural at 1101 John Ave. is a link to the past. The Palace Theater, built in 1917, provided entertainment that spanned generations. The vaudeville and live stage show era included visits by Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, the Little Rascals and the Dionne Quintuplets.
“Tyrone Power and Charles Lawton did readings at the Palace Theater,” said Richard “Dick” Sandeen, who attended a reception Wednesday night for the mural.
The Palace reinvented itself in 1953, modernizing to offer movies to the next generation.
“We were there all the time,” said Mary (McPhearson) Yoshimoto of Lake Nebagamon. “My very first date was at the Palace, ‘The Guns of Navarrone.’ I was in seventh grade.” She remembers going with fellow seventh graders Robin Nord Osell and Dennis, her date. Osell’s date, Larry, was “the older man,” an eighth-grader, and his high school brother drove them to the show. She and her sister, Ann Borich, remembered when tickets were a quarter for children, 50 cents for adults and 35 cents for Golden Age. Their friend Susan Olson worked at the ticket booth.
“Lots of great memories,” Borich said.
Double features provided too much temptation for some.
“We even skipped school sometimes to go,” said Marianne Peters of Superior. “Sometimes I’d meet my fiancé there.”
When the final reel, “Reds” played in 1982, Edward Rutledge was there. The Superior man was the last projectionist at the Palace.
“He was more than a movie buff; he was passionate about movies,” said Rutledge’s cousin, Mick MacKenzie, a historical society member. “He would be so proud of what this mural represents.”
Rutledge was one of many community members who cried when the Palace was razed in 2006. Although he died in February, his face and memory will live on in the mural. The man leaning against the wall in the painting will have his face and be carrying a film canister under his arm.
“This would be the happiest day Eddie could imagine in his whole life,” said Rutledge’s mother, Joan Laughlin, at the reception. “Movies were his life, the one thing that was a constant since he was a little boy.”
Another Superior man, Don Isakson, will be pictured in the mural as the man leaning against the building and checking his watch.
“He was a railroad man, and I do remember him checking his watch and making the comment, ‘railroad time is always the correct time,’” said Isakson’s daughter, Kim Nygaard.
The mural memorial was a 75th birthday gift to Nygaard’s mother from her six children, 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“We thought this would be a better present than a bathrobe,” Nygaard said, fighting back tears.
The couple strolling beside the theater will represent Burke’s parents. She said she hopes people look at them and “remember the wonderful days of being young and in love.”
Names will also be inscribed on the marquee and on the bricks below the mural for contributors.
When artist Brian Olson began the mural, he had no idea how important the Palace was to the community.
“I’m getting a lot of people coming by talking about when they were kids,” he said.
Douglas County Historical Society Director Kathy Laakso said the mural’s design gives a sense of the Palace in its heyday. A cutaway view into the building shows the activity, the joy and excitement, as Laurel and Hardy perform onstage.
“This is a peek into the cultural activity of our community,” Laakso said. “That’s what the historical society is all about, what art is all about.”
Lawton told the gathered crowd that public art is meant to spark discussion, to take the familiar and make it new. She hoped the mural would inspire the creation of more public art in Superior to draw the eye and prompt smiles.
“It defines us in the way we look at it, think about it,” she said. “It defines us to the outside world.”
The mural project, which began two years ago, is the result of someone who saw things differently. Barb Mattson, administrative assistant with the historical society, was driving down Tower Avenue shortly after the Palace was torn down. She looked toward the site where the Palace had been and noticed she could see the back of the historical society. The idea for the mural was born.
“We were all looking at the devastation and Barb saw what could be,” said historical society honorary trustee Teddie Meronek. “She saw that in a different way.”
The project should be finished in about two weeks, according to Olson. Fundraising will continue through the fall to pay for the mural. Mattson estimated they need to raise another $3,000 to cover costs. For more information about the mural or to donate funds, call the historical society at (715) 392-8449, go to the Web site at www.douglashistory.org or send donations to Douglas County Historical Society, P.O. Box 2051, Superior, WI 54880.