Historic Murals of Ashland County

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Follow the Mural Brick Road

The historic murals of Ashland County, also known as the Mural Brick Road, combine art appreciation and Wisconsin history lessons into one. The trail starts in Butternut in southern Ashland County and follows State Highway 13 north through the communities of Glidden, Mellen, Marengo, and the city of Ashland and showcases an impressive combination of art that makes you think and local history that makes you remember.

Glidden History Building Mural depicts historic storefronts, Glidden

Butternut, the southern end of the trail and home to seven murals, is also home to one of the two artists responsible for the project, Kelly Meredith. In fact, her studio and shop, Fanatical Fish, is located directly across the street from two of the murals.

Meredith was chosen to complete the first mural in 1998 while still working as an art teacher in the Phillips School District. She continued to work on murals with another artist, Susan Prentice Martinsen, mainly in the summers when she was off school. In 2003, she quit teaching to pursue her art full-time and is currently booked more than a year out as a muralist. Initially funded through grants, the mural project has evolved to private fundraising and sponsorships.

Kelly Meredith, muralist, outside her gallery, Fanatical Fish. Photo courtesy of Kelly Meredith

“We created this promotion by applying for a Joint Effort Marketing (JEM) grant in 2016 and were awarded this grant for three years to assist with marketing and kicking off the Mural Brick Road,” said Mary McPhetridge, executive director of the Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce (AACC). “We wanted to celebrate that every community in Ashland County had a mural and celebrate the history of our communities.”

“It started with one project in 1998, and then one project literally led to the next,” said Meredith. According to the AACC, of which Bayfield Electric Cooperative is a member, there are 35 murals included in the project.

Prentice Martinsen has since retired, but Meredith credits her with how the project took off. Prentice Martinson morphed the first few murals into a more organized endeavor, expanding to the Mural Brick Road as it is today.

Meredith explains that the two artists were, indeed, a team. They tackled the murals together and spent hours painting outdoors on brick facades of buildings (some 120 feet long and 20 feet tall), then later moved inside and painted on panels in a studio housed in the old school in Butternut. Though a team effort, Meredith always painted the faces to achieve a consistent look.

Mural #7 Storefront Mural, Ashland

“We kind of divided up the work, like I tended to be pretty quick with faces, and she would do clothing and bodies, so we’d divide up the labor,” said Meredith. “Our painting styles really matched, which is great because you can’t tell where it’s one person or the other.”

Portion of Mural #7 Storefront Mural, Ashland

Traveling north from Butternut to Glidden, there are more murals, one in Marion Park, that portray historic storefronts and community members, some frozen as they were in the 1940s. Depicted are the grocery store, newspaper office, lumberyard, and local bar.

“What I like about that one is there’s a beer sign that’s coming out from the wall, and I got the perspective just right. If you are standing in the right place, it looks like it’s literally coming out of the wall,” said Meredith.

She also enjoyed working on the couple seated on the bench in front of the grocery store, especially to capture that moment in history using a photo from the woman, Edna.

“She came into my studio with this gorgeous 1940s picture of her and her husband in his uniform and her with her big swoopy 1940s hair, and I thought, ‘Oh my, I love this,’” said Meredith.

The Great Walls of Glidden Murals depict area veterans larger than life, Glidden.

Butternut Murals

Family members commission the faces depicted in Butternut as a fundraiser for the town’s historical museum, which is also worth a visit, in tandem with viewing the murals. Meredith says that each year, she adds five to six people who have made a difference in the Butternut community to the mural.

Every Life Tells a Story Mural, Butternut. Paul Rose depicted third from left.

One face immortalized larger than life is Paul Rose, former director of Price Electric Cooperative. Rose was an area dairy farmer and electric co-op director by day but moonlighted as the leader of the famous Paul Rose Polka Band. Meredith painted Rose holding his accordion as he looked in his 40s.

When one sponsors a mural of someone in Butternut, the sponsor has to write a narrative of their life in their handwriting. It’s then projected behind the portrait and painted in the background.

This area of northern Wisconsin has a storied polka music history, with other polka greats pictured with Rose in the murals. Rose, now 89 years old, told stories of yesteryear when there were multiple polka dances every weekend, and every dance hall in the area was alive with a steady, rhythmic pulse of tuba and accordion beats.

The Making of Mellen Mural, Mellen

“I was only about 14 years old, and my mother and dad bought me an accordion,” said Rose. “My mother and dad went to dances, and they never missed a weekend where there were dances here locally. In those days, they took the kids along. They didn’t have babysitters. I’d go along, and I loved polka music, so they bought me an accordion.”

When asked where he learned to play, Rose said, “There were no instructors around here in this area, and so even the school did not have music at that time. I learned how to play the accordion by myself. I knew the rhythm, and I knew the waltz and the polka and two-step, and I just kept pecking away at it until I could do it myself.”

The Paul Rose Polka Band played area dances for decades and left its mark on the area.

“It’s a big, long story, but I guess that’s why my picture’s up there,” said Rose of his image on the Every Life Tells a Story Mural. “You want history? That’s the way to do it. It is interesting to look at, but I’m not the only one up there that is interesting. That’s all history with family and lots and lots of polka music.”

 

 

 

 

 

The oldest and newest technologies captured in the Farmer
and His Tractor Mural, Marengo

When asked what she hopes to convey as an artist to those who come to see the Ashland County murals, Meredith said, “I hope that they would get a flavor of both the history and the culture and just the vibe of this area throughout time. It gives you a sense of what we’re like and what we value.”

Marengo Residents #2 Mural, Marengo

“The murals offer something to do that isn’t weather dependent, and they are always available, whether you end up arriving after 5 p.m. or before 8 a.m.,” said McPhetridge.

“Your personal stories make up your local history,” said Meredith, “you put them all together, and that’s your town.”—Dana Kelroy

The Mural Brick Road starts in the town of Butternut and follows State Highway 13 north to Madeline Island. More information can be found at www.muralbrickroad.com or by calling the Ashland Chamber of Commerce at 715-682-2500. Kelly Meredith’s gallery, Fanatical Fish, and studio is located at 108 Main Street, Butternut WI 54514 and hosts occasional Saturday art classes with other artists. Call for gallery hours, 715-661-4814.

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