WILLMAR, Minn. — A potluck, complete with a table groaning under the weight of several slow cookers, often known by the brand name Crock-Pot, each one filled with a family's special recipe is a scene many, if not most, Minnesotans of all types have taken part in at least once. What is in those pots can vary as widely as the people sharing the meal.
It is that sense of community, family and food that Lili Lennox, a Twin Cities artist who grew up in Morris, Minnesota, hoped to portray in her newly installed mural in downtown Willmar, Minnesota.
"Here is this icon of family and community life that hasn't had its due on public art," Lennox said. "It is time for the Crock-Pot to have a moment."
The piece was Lennox's contribution to the public art project partnership between Willmar Main Street and Blue Cross Blue Shield to illustrate the Willmar Welcoming Resolution passed in May 2018 by the Willmar City Council. A second piece, a sculpture by James Church, will soon be installed as well.
The 12-by-12-foot mural was installed on July 27 by a team from Quick Signs. Pushing through the punishing heat, the crew hung each individual panel on the building wall, until the bright and cheerful mural popped against the gray wall.
"I wanted to do something that was colorful and pop-arty," Lennox said.
From early on in her planning for the piece, Lennox wanted to focus on the theme of food. Trying a new dish is an easy way to be introduced to a new culture and perhaps push a person to learn more.
"It is really approachable," Lennox said.
Shared meals are also something that many cultures have in common. They are a way to sit down and gather as a community around a favorite dish.
"Bringing something to share, bringing the elements to (your) culture," Lennox said.
There are eight different slow cookers on the mural, each one painted in the style and colors of a nation or people's flags that make their home in Willmar. There is the flag of Norway to represent a portion of Willmar's Scandinavian heritage, the white star on a blue background of the Somalia flag, the flags of Mexico and Honduras for Willmar's Latino community, the flag of India and the flag that represents the Karen people.
"Representing as much as I could," Lennox said.
Tying it all together, in the upper left- and lower right-hand corners are the flags of the United States and the state of Minnesota, the home of all of Willmar's residents no matter where they originally are from.
"I had not realized there was such a diversity," Lennox said. "Good on Willmar for attracting them. It makes the experience of the town more interesting."
The mural itself is painted on aluminum composite panels, which can handle Minnesota's varied weather. Lennox used Nova Color acrylic paints, choosing colors that have high protection against ultraviolet light fade.
"They have a nice range of colors," Lennox said.
To actually paint the mural, Lennox first designed it on her tablet, before using a projector to project the lines of the mural onto the canvas.
"It is like a paint by numbers by that time," Lennox said.
Over the finished painting, Lennox laid two thick layers of a UV coating, to better protect the art from the elements. Lennox believes the mural should hold up for a good 20 years.
And by the time the food-themed mural fades, Lennox hopes there will be another mural ready to take its place. She feels each mural, or public art project, has a season and should change as the community around it changes.
"I would love for someone to come along and say this is the next thing we would love in our town," Lennox said.
But for now, Willmar has a brand-new mural to welcome visitors to downtown, an invitation to explore Willmar's many cultures through community and food. Lennox said she thoroughly enjoyed her time creating the Welcoming Resolution mural for Willmar and hopes the community enjoys it as well — perhaps with a potluck community picnic under the mural.
"Bring something to share, take on the charge of the mural," Lennox said.