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Mural goes up in Callaway

The WELRP MURAL was nearing completion Friday afternoon, but a sudden rainstorm postponed the planned unveiling until Saturday.

The colorful mural on the wall of the White Earth Land Recovery Project office building in Callaway didn't just spring up out of the ground.

WELRP founder Winona LaDuke had long envisioned such a mural telling the history and struggles of the White Earth tribe, said WELRP development director Betsy McDougall.

"To see something like that (being painted) is an amazing thing," she said. "People were stopping and asking about it, we were getting phone calls from people wanting to come over and paint..."

Five native women artists did most of the painting, with the help of local youngsters from Callaway and White Earth.

The indigenous-led "I Am Art" project was made possible with help from a grant, McDougall said, and involved a three-day series of arts workshops -- including traditional Ojibwe art lessons, stenciling, painting, theater and video -- all organized by the women of "I Am Art."

The group welcomed students from the age of 5 up to high school.

"This program is important in terms of cultural revitalization for our community," said Margaret Campbell of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, in a news release, "and as a means of communicating our rich culture and history to the surrounding non-native communities -- whose educational systems do not traditionally cover the history of White Earth or the Ojibwe people in much detail, if at all."

McDougall is proud that the project was a women-led effort.

"It was exciting to see all these women sitting there painting and getting involved," she said. "There was a bunch of kids involved too.

"They did stencils for the clan icons on the clouds -- the kids were all full of paint," she said with a laugh.

The main painters were Navaho artists Kimberly Smith and Kelly Hubbell, Dakota artist Grace Horne, and Anishinaabe artists Jessica Littlewolf and Terri LaDuke.

Also joining in on Friday were Lavina Hvezde and Heidi Stevens, both of Rice Lake, who proudly posed for a photograph next to the portraits they had painted.

The mission of "I Am Art" is to provide creative, expressive and eye-opening experiences for native youth across Indian country.

When it came time to paint the squash, beans and corn, McDougall said she called over a male artist she knows because he was best able to get the details right on the garden crops.

Winona LaDuke shared her vision for the mural with the artists at a gathering at her home, but she wasn't able to be at the mural-painting -- instead she shared the experience via Facebook, McDougall said.

The mural painting required special spray paint and tips, and the investment paid off. McDougall admitted she was a little worried about how the outdoor artwork would hold up to foul weather, but it turns out she needn't have worried: "We've had a couple significant storms now, and it did pretty good," she said.

The main artists on the project all have reputations for their work on murals or similar projects.

They stenciled out the mural prior to painting and used a projector along with the special spray paint and other equipment.

"The artists had great vision," she said. "Once they kind of got the background of what people wanted to see," they went ahead and developed the mural.

Despite the weather setbacks -- including a sudden downpour late Friday afternoon -- the mural was completed on Saturday, according to Campbell. It was only about a day later than Friday's scheduled unveiling.

McDougall said the project excited the children who were involved, and shows how vital art can be to youth development.

It shows how important art is in school, and in life, she said.

"But we never take the time, we're always too busy," she added. "You could see how energized the children became when given the opportunity."

She hopes that the project will continue someday to cover other walls of the WELRP office building along Highway 59 in Callaway.

""I'd like to see it wrapped all the way around the building," she said. "It was a wonderful project -- it was exciting to see it emerge out of so many people's vision ... It's a beautiful piece of art. It's wonderfully unique, and it fits our community."