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Progress: A community that paints together...

The final project hangs on display in the ArtReach building along with a plaque describing its purpose and construction. The traveling piece is available for exhibit at local businesses and organizations. (Photos courtesy of ArtReach)1 / 4
1: More than 100 wooden paint stirrers, donated by Red Wing Ace Hardware, were first given a basecoat of acrylic paint.2 / 4
2: Volunteer artists painted and personalized the sticks at a number of ArtReach events last year. The project started with warm colors like red, orange and yellow before moving on to the cool colors.3 / 4
3: ArtReach program director Emily Nelson puts down a water-based shellac to seal and protect the project. A white frame also was constructed to give it a finished look.4 / 4

When the 2013 Community Art Project started last summer, ArtReach program director Emily Nelson admits she didn’t know what it would look like at the end.

“We wanted to be a little vague because we wanted the artists to have autonomy with their own piece,” Nelson said. “And I think it worked out really well.”

More than a hundred local artists and art enthusiasts contributed to the project, she said, which involved hand-painting 118 wooden stir sticks and putting them together to create a rectangular color gradient.

The more than 6-foot-long piece looks like a rainbow from afar, blending from red to green to violet; but, from up close, viewers will see a mix of patterns, symbols and other personal flourishes added by the individual artists.

Nelson said the finished piece is balanced, but also shows a variety of painting techniques and styles.

“And I think it looks better because of that,” she said. “It’s more representative of our community.”

… sticks together

The idea for the project came from Kristin Bray, ArtReach’s program and volunteer coordinator. After another idea for a community project fell through last spring, Bray found a piece online that used painted sticks to create a pattern.

Nelson said ArtReach staff members decided to do something similar because the individual pieces would allow many people to participate, part of the nonprofit organization’s goal to increase access to art experiences in the area. Turning the project into a gradient also allowed them to use it as a teaching lesson about the color wheel, she said.

With sponsorship from Xcel Energy, the Minnesota State Arts Board and private donations, ArtReach went about organizing the project and collecting materials. Red Wing Ace Hardware stepped up to provide all of the sticks.

The project started with children at the ARTScool Day Camp in July. It also appeared at other local events, including Red Wing Family YMCA’s Summer Enrichment Program, an Anderson Center book fair and Free Art Days during the Red Wing Farmers Market.

Everyone from professional artists to 4-year-olds contributed, spending an estimated 150 hours painting the sticks and assembling the final piece, Nelson said.

She added that each stick took around 10 to 30 minutes to paint, but some people spent more than an hour to make sure they got it just right.

“It was a fun project,” Nelson said. “We really enjoyed it and the people who helped paint it seemed to enjoy it, too.”

The project currently is up for display at the ArtReach building, 112 Bush St., she said. Organizations and businesses interested in hosting the piece can call 651-388-4488.

This story originally appeared in part 1 of the 2014 Red Wing Republican Eagle Progress Edition, titled Start to Finish. The three-part series features local businesses, artisans and community groups describing their step-by-step processes. 

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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