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Mural celebrates 100 years of Duluth art

Adu Gindy, Jen Dietrich and Carla Stetson will soon go out on a massive shoe-buying spree.

"We'll need at least 35 to 40 of them," Stetson said.

"Maybe more," Gindy said.

The three Duluth artists aren't shopping for themselves, but rather as a way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Duluth Art Institute.

After spending nearly all of Saturday and Sunday painting a 32-foot-long mural depicting Duluth, they'll spend next weekend painting shoes, which they said will symbolize the Art Institute's history and place in the city.

"It's been this nomadic institution until they moved into the Depot," Gindy said. "But even then it hasn't stayed in one place. It's moved and evolved."

Though the earliest known art exhibit in Duluth was recorded in 1871, the Art Institute wasn't incorporated until 1907. Some of the members on the original Board of Trustees included the most powerful and influential people in Duluth's history, including Chester Congdon and G.G. Hartley, but for whatever reason, they never decided to build the organization a home.

For more than 70 years, said Samantha Gibb Roff, the Institute's executive director, the organization bounced around to several different locations, including the county jail, until it moved into the Depot in 1977.

"Even without a permanent home and identity, it survived," Gibb Roff said. "It's stronger than it's ever been now."

Gibb Roff commissioned the three artists using a $3,100 grant to come up with a graphic representation of the organization's history.

The artists, who have done individual shows at the Art Institute, set to work painting a representation of the city, from Spirit Mountain and the St. Louis River all the way to Brighton Beach, "with familiar markers along the way," Dietrich said, including the copper-top church, Glensheen Mansion and, of course, the Depot.

"It's a very playful representation," Dietrich said. "It's not an exact rendition."

When the painting is unveiled Friday, March 16 at the Depot Great Hall, children's book writer and storyteller Lise Lunge-Larsen will use the painting to tell the story of the history of the Art Institute.

"The story of the organization is very much tied into the history of Duluth," said Lunge-Larsen, who lives in Duluth and is a three-time Minnesota Book Award winner.

Lunge-Larsen said her story won't be a conventional telling of the history of the city, but more of a "dramatic monologue" that will show how artists not only became shaped by the city, but also how the city was shaped by art.

"It is the artists who gave the city its sense of community," Lunge-Larsen said. "You know, if it's true, if history repeats itself, we should be in for some really good times for art. This town is like an art magnet."

BRANDON STAHL can be reached at (218) 720-4154 or by e-mail at