Nationally renowned artist Gregg Deal joined students at Proctor High School on Saturday to paint toward connection.

Deal, a painter and performance artist visiting from Colorado, talked with two College of St. Scholastica art students about representation in art as they worked on a 8-by-5 foot mural of one of Deal's paintings called "Rise."

He hopes the painting, which will be permanently hung above a stairway landing in Proctor High School, will show students that they can rise above whatever challenges they're facing. The finished painting will include the word "rise."

"To have something that is about rising up, rising above, having some semblance of hope, I think those are positive messages and that's what we're doing here with this," Deal said. "Something that's positive and applicable to anybody."

Deal first created the painting three years ago and has since painted it at three locations around Colorado. While much of Deal's work can serve as a form of disruption against the oppression of indigenous people, he said he created "Rise" to offer a more universal message.

"This is an indigenous woman," Deal said of the painting. "There's elements in the image that would denote her indigeneity. She's got braids, she's got earrings that are sort of indigenous, but the message overall is applicable to anyone. I think that's important."

Indigenous artist and activist Gregg Deal of Colorado Springs, Colorado creates a painting with St. Scholastica student Jared Schuester Saturday in the auditorium at Proctor High School. Deal is a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and is the College of St. Scholastica's Mural Initiative Project's 2020 visiting artist in collaboration with Proctor Public Schools. (Clint Austin /caustin@duluthnews.com)
Indigenous artist and activist Gregg Deal of Colorado Springs, Colorado creates a painting with St. Scholastica student Jared Schuester Saturday in the auditorium at Proctor High School. Deal is a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and is the College of St. Scholastica's Mural Initiative Project's 2020 visiting artist in collaboration with Proctor Public Schools. (Clint Austin /caustin@duluthnews.com)

Deal's two-day visit with Proctor Public Schools was a part of the College of St. Scholastica's fifth year of its mural initiative project that's intended to expose kids from across the community to more art with the help of visiting artists, said Sarah Brokke Erickson, the director of the art program at St. Scholastica.

During a planning meeting for this year's mural project, Bokke Erickson said they made "a wildest dreams list" that included Deal.

When they heard he was willing to visit, Bokke Erickson said they were shocked, adding that none of their other mural projects had included an artist known on the national level.

"It ends up being a really powerful experience for both high school students and our college students because they're working with each other at different levels on their artistic passions," Bokke Erickson said of the mural initiative. "It informs what they do in a pretty powerful way."

Bokke Erickson estimated around 50 people showed up at some time Saturday morning during the community mural painting.

The public was invited to help paint a design on four 6-by-6 foot created in collaboration between Proctor High School art students and a St. Scholastica public art practicum class.

Robb Winterfeld, who teaches 10-12th-grade art at Proctor High School, said that at the end of one of his introductory classes he asks students to think about what social justice means and to create a piece about a social issue.

"I challenge them to get personal and think about something that very few people know about them and to take that risk," Winterfeld said. "If you set the table with that, it's a pretty emotional day in class because a lot of students share a lot of things. It's kind of the springboard to this."

The students' artwork from that class was then shared with Paul LeJeunessen's public art practicum class at St. Scholastica. The college class used the themes found in the high school students' artwork to create designs for the community mural. The high school students voted on the design they wanted to paint during the community mural.

"We kind of narrowed it down to the themes that seemed to be repeating," LeJeunessen said. "We said, 'Well no matter what we make it has to be uplifting."

Themes featured in the final design include the effects of social media on young people, environmentalism and the climate crisis as well as peace and inclusion.

Several of Winterfeld's students participated in the community mural project, including 11th grader Sibley Dunbar.

Dunbar expressed gratitude for getting to participate in the community mural project and learn from Deal.

"It's a cool way to collaborate with a bigger artist," Deal said. "It shows us how to grow because this is not the art I usually do. It's something I enjoy doing still."

The community mural will hang inside the doors near the high school gym and auditorium.

For the second part of the residency, Deal will be returning to the Twin Ports area in late March for a public artists lecture at St. Scholastica. Proctor High School students will have a small art exhibition at the college as well. The original date for that event has yet to be finalized.

Deal, who went to school for painting, credits his performance art as the work that gave him the notoriety to travel and collaborate with different communities. He's best known for his work in which he incorrectly dressed as a "stereotypical" Native American while walking around New York City and Washington D.C.

That performance, Deal said, presented an opportunity to confront people's reactions, which were often ignorant and often racist.

"It gives us control over the narrative in real time," Deal said.