People flowed in and out of Superior Public Library meeting room Friday, Sept. 28 during the Love Your Local Artist event. They stopped to gaze at a panoramic view of Superior dotted with nursery rhyme characters, created by local artist Tony Yaworski.
It brought back memories for some. Others were prompted to dig into their local geography and nursery rhyme knowledge to place the waterfront scenes and storybook characters: Billy Goats Gruff tramping across the Blatnik Bridge; Humpty Dumpty perched on a wall at Billings Park; Rapunzel leaning out of the Wisconsin Point lighthouse while the dish and spoon ran along the shore.
"Most people agree that it's a treasure," said retired Superior High School art teacher Bill Gedde, a Yaworski disciple. "Tony was a treasure; this is a treasure."
Commissioned in 1967 by the Memorial Hospital Auxiliary, the 43-foot-long, 5-foot-high mural once hung in the pediatric unit, which is now part of the VA Clinic. It spent the last 30 years rolled up in a storage room of Essentia Health St. Mary's Hospital-Superior.
The treasure was unearthed by talk of pirates, or at least a pirate-themed children's play area, at the hospital. Administrator Terry Jacobson said the idea reminded him of the Yaworski mural, although it wouldn't fit the spot.
"We wouldn't have had 40 feet of space here anywhere," he said. "But after I saw it I thought, 'Boy, this is a treasure that we can't just roll up and put back.'"
Jacobson reached out to the community and connected with Gedde. His first question was if the mural could be restored; his second was where would it hang.
Gedde assured him it could be restored. The Superior Public Library Board of Trustees was quick to offer it a permanent home in the large meeting room.
"All they had to do was mention Tony's name," Jacobson said.
Yaworski, a former SHS art teacher, left a lasting impression on generations of students and the artistic landscape.
"I'm a Yaworski-trained kid," Gedde said. "I couldn't have done my job one single day if it hadn't been for what I learned from Tony, everything from color theory to composition to linear perspective, every single aspect of elements and principles of design, we learned from Tony. I've worked hard to pass that on to the next generation."
At one time, he said, about 20 Yaworski murals decorated Superior. One, a ship scene that once graced the former Sammy's Pizza, is now on display at in the halls of Superior High School.
It took a flurry of activity by Gedde and homebuilder Raymond Moe, another Yaworski-trained artist, to get the nursery rhyme mural ready for Friday's event.
"These would not be here today if it hadn't been for the commitment Ray Moe made to this project," Gedde said.
The public will be invited to the library to watch the restoration work. Gedde plans to assemble a team of Yaworski-trained artists who know the palette and the brush strokes.
"Now is the fun part," he said.
The murals will have an upgraded setting as well. According to Library Director Sue Heskin, the large meeting room will get new carpeting and paint in January. Endowment and donations will be tapped to fund the $20,000 project.
The library will be raising additional funds for the mural restoration and display. To donate in memory of Tony Yaworski, contact the library.
For many, seeing the artist's mural back in the public eye is cause to celebrate.
"We're delighted that we were able to find a home for it in a great environment that's going to get a lot of exposure," Gedde said. "This room is used a lot. So lots of people are going to get the chance to see this again."