Sunday, December 5, 2021
This is the artwork commissioned by Gwen Reiss to replace the existing mural. It was hand-drawn by Albert Lea native Chandler Anderson, and would be photographed, scanned and printed onto panels that are then attached to the building. Submitted photo The original mural of Ellendale was a vibrant depiction of an early-1900s street scene. The colors faded significantly about three years after it was last repainted, said business owner Gwen Reiss. She’d like the public to vote on whether to keep this mural or replace it with a new one. Submitted photo

Ellendale mural is up for debate

When Gwen and Ed Reiss opened Two Doves Boutique on Ellendale’s Main Street last year, it was with an eye toward maintaining a vibrant downtown in the Steele County town of about 800 people.

But something bothered Gwen, and she could see it every day, out her front window.

“That sign looks bad,” she said, “and if you don’t take care of the big things, what are you doing about the little things?”

The sign is a mural, about 16 feet by 16 feet, painted on metal and hanging on the side of the building that houses the Ellendale Café, run by Russ Goette.

It’s a full-color street scene featuring a train chugging through several townspeople and bustling businesses and a representation of Dr. E.Q. Ertel and Ellen Dale, after whom the town is named. Ertl was an early resident and generous community benefactor.

These days, though, the once-bright sign looks more like an over-used whiteboard – the mural faded about three years after it was last repainted, Reiss said.

She’s on a mission to remedy that but said she would like a more “authentic” looking representation of 1900s Ellendale.

Reiss has commissioned Albert Lea native Chandler Anderson to create the new look – and the new format – but said she’ll leave the choice up to the public.

Either way, it will require money, which requires fundraisers and donors.

Anderson’s artwork – which will be photographed, scanned, printed onto large panels of polymetal substrate, then attached to the building – would come in at about $16,000, including materials and installation.

Redoing the original mural would be about half of that, Reiss figured, using the amount the city last paid to have it redone.

Goette, who bought the building in January 2020, said he hasn’t been included in any of the discussions.

“Right now, it’s a bad situation,” he said. “People are mad at me because they think I want to get rid of it.”

The mural has been part of downtown Ellendale for at least 20 years, Goette guessed.

“I care what goes up there,” he said, “and I’d like to have a say in it. They asked if they could redo the mural, and that’s as far as it’s gone. I’m waiting for somebody to show me something; I haven’t even seen the choices.”

So far, the amount raised sits at about $3,400. Another fundraiser, the Fall Festival, is set for Oct. 2

In addition to shopping, people can vote for their choice of mural at the event.

Despite her obvious preference, Reiss insisted she will let the people decide.

“I’m not trying to tell (the city) how to spend the money,” she said. “Let’s get the money, get it voted on, and let’s get it done.”

Anderson, who now lives and works in the Twin Cities, said the point is the art.

“If they go with my piece, that’s fine,” he said. “If they go with the other one, that’s fine, too.”

Anderson’s work is already on display in the area; he painted Reiss’s storefront sign in Ellendale, as well as the 25-foot-long Viking ship on the wall of the Hayfield High School gym.

He and Reiss “bounced ideas off each other,” Anderson said. “There were certain elements of Ellendale that people wanted to see: some of the older buildings, the train. In any piece I do, I try to make it feel like it’s always been there.”

His offering also features Dr. Ertel and Thomas Brown, who was responsible for bringing the railroad to Ellendale, buying land and donating it back to the town for churches and a hotel.

“It includes the history of the town,” Anderson said. “Miss Ellen Dale makes an appearance. It’s fun to be part of the process to show the history; it’s something that’ll be around, hopefully, for years to come.”

But he knows that comes with challenges, and that’s why his work uses digital technology, instead of paint and brushes.

“The whole idea of this process of doing something outside is, that we’re outside in Minnesota,” Anderson said. “They’ll own this art; they’ll always have that little jpeg. If they need to touch it up, they don’t need to have me come out again.”

He will oversee the printing and installation of his work, which is hand-done in sepia tones similar to photographs of that era.

Once sufficient funds are raised – for whichever mural is selected – the account will remain open, Reiss said, for upkeep of Main Street projects.



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