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Outdoor art gallery grows

Ashland, beware; Superior's out to steal your crown. "I think we're going to be rivaling Ashland for the mural capital of Wisconsin," said artist Alison Price, director of Phantom Galleries Superior. Public murals have been cropping up in Superio...

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Members of the community put their artistic signatures on a community mural at Shannon’s Stained Glassery in Superior’s South End neighborhood last month. Another community mural is slated to start next Thursday at Sweeden Sweets in Superior’s North End. Submitted photo

Ashland, beware; Superior's out to steal your crown.

"I think we're going to be rivaling Ashland for the mural capital of Wisconsin," said artist Alison Price, director of Phantom Galleries Superior.

Public murals have been cropping up in Superior for years, and a new batch is available for viewing. The Spirit Room boasts a jazzy new mural by Erik Pearson, the Twin Cities artist who created numerous back door murals during the Tower Avenue reconstruction project. Tom Napoli of Proctor is painting a pasture scene reminiscent of "Gunsmoke," complete with an array of farm animals, along the wall of Happy Tails Animal Hospital, 1327 Banks Ave. Once that's done, he plans to paint the iconic grape stomping scene featuring Lucille Ball on the back of nearby Wine Beginnings, 1413 Tower Ave.

"The newest murals are exciting," Price said. "Superior is really becoming a public art hub."

Napoli, known for his work on both the exterior and interior of Superior's Vintage Italian Pizza, said he enjoys the different styles of Superior's murals. It's like an open air art gallery, he said.

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"They're all balanced, all colorful, all beautiful," Napoli said.

A new community mural on Shannon's Stained Glassery, 5904 Tower Ave., pops with color. Within the larger outlines of a waterfall, lake and trees are scattered slices of life - a transistor radio, dolphins, hearts, names, Star Wars spaceships, Batman's bat-signal and more. Although Price outlined the sections, about 300 members of the community filled them in.

"I like to think the murals are much like a community," Price said. "From a distance, it is one large entity, yet close up, we realize that the community and mural are made of unique, colorful and extraordinary parts, each part as important as the others."

Community murals take public art a step further, she said, engaging the public and giving them active roles as artists.

As their painting came to life last month, artists of all ages shared their successes, struggles, whatever was happening in their world - one person had donated a kidney; another painted their grandparents; a 7-year-old drew a scene of their whole family camping.

"It's really beautiful," Price said.

Business owner Shannon Johnson had been out of town for the first few days of painting. She returned to a wall full of colors.

"I absolutely adored it; it's just fabulous," Johnson said. "Every little spot tells a story from someone in the community."

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Her entire family left impressions on the building, from dolphins and a butterfly to a pirate ship and stars. Many who've left their mark have returned to view the finished wall. During the first day of school at Bryant Elementary, Johnson said, the place was abuzz with folks talking about the mural.

"It brought everyone together for such a positive thing," she said.

The South End scene at Shannon's was the second community mural to be painted in Superior. The first, also outlined by Price, involved 600 community artists and left a lasting impression on Twin Ports Custom Climate LLC, 1315 Banks Ave., in 2013.

Price will be at it again next week. This time, the wall of Sweeden Sweets, 601 Tower Ave. will be the canvas. Everyone is invited to share their stories in picture form. The painting is weather-dependent, so Price urged artists to check the Our Superior Community Mural and Superior Public Art - SPACES Facebook pages for updates on painting dates and times. The wall should be prepped and ready for the public to paint by Thursday. Community artists should wear old clothes they don't mind getting paint on.

The community murals are funded by the Wisconsin Arts Board and Superior Business Improvement District. Local businesses also lended a hand. Another community mural is planned for the spring of 2017. Once again, it will be open to all.

"I am passionate about people feeling comfortable and having a sense of belonging," Price said. "The stories shared while painters are working are incredible. Some stories move me to tears, others make me laugh. We learn so much from each other, the sorrows, successes and struggles each of us face, all while painting side by side, creating as a community."

Whether this creative community deserves the mural crown, however, remains to be seen. Superior has at least 21 outdoor murals - 23 including the upcoming Wine Beginnings and Sweeden Sweets projects. Many of them, Price said, are Pokestops for the Pokemon Go app. The city also has six small storm drain murals.

Ashland County's Mural Brick Road stretches from LaPointe on Madeline Island to Butternut. It includes more than 24 historic murals depicting life in Northern Wisconsin. State legislators have named Ashland the "Historical Mural Capital of Wisconsin" for murals by artists Susan Prentice-Martinsen and Kelly Meredith that cover an eight-block section of Ashland's Main Street.

Related Topics: SUPERIOR
Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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