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Pioneer Park refreshed with mural depicting northwoods beauty

The mural on the side of the Enjoy candy shop will depict the outdoor beauty of the Park Rapids area. A celebration of the mural is planned at 1 p.m. Friday, June 25 in Pioneer Park.

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Preslicka adds a splash of color to his mural on Tuesday. (Robin Fish/Enterprise, June 22, 2021)

When mural artist Greg Preslicka started painting the wall along the north side of Pioneer Park on Monday, his ambitious plan was to finish on Friday.

A celebration of the mural is planned at 1 p.m. Friday in Pioneer Park.

Painted with exterior house paint donated by local businesses, the project is meant “to represent the Heartland Lakes brand of nature, family and tradition and to create a mural complementary to the park setting,” according to a press release from the Heartland Art Council.

LuAnn Hurd-Lof, with Heartland Arts, said the committee chose Preslicka because of his ability to collaborate, and said the project worked very well with him.

“He’s done, like, 100 murals,” Hurd-Lof added. “He’s very experienced.”

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Artist Greg Preslicka consults a preliminary drawing as he sketches the outlines of his mural Monday afternoon on the north side of Pioneer Park. (Robin Fish/Enterprise, June 21, 2021.) The insets, courtesy of Heartland Arts, show Preslicka's concept art, with the section to the west of the Cattail Creek entrance above and the main body of the mural below.

Finding the vision

Early this year, Preslicka (pronounced “pres-LITCH-ka”) was selected for the job from among multiple artists. He started working on concept art for the mural in April, taking input from members of the mural committee.

“I saw the wall, walked around town, got to know the area a little bit,” Preslicka said in a phone interview before his brush touched the wall. “After that, I go back to my studio and take information that I’ve gotten and try to distill that out and put it together into different ideas.”

Typically, Preslicka presents three to five designs. In this case, he presented five options for the committee to look at and decide which fits their vision best.

The chosen concept depicted scenes of northwoods beauty – trees, sunsets, fishing boats on a river, various kinds of wildlife including a bear climbing a tree, a lady slipper in bloom, people enjoying the outdoors and even a spot many will recognize as the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

Spanning the entire length of the wall except the entrance to Cattail Creek Framing, the mural includes a watery swirl of letters spelling “Enjoy” and a gigantic, leaping fish, near the streetfront entrance to Enjoy candy shop.

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“That park is a little oasis in the downtown area,” said Preslicka. “That was one of that thoughts, that maybe we’d make this one of those spots to reflect on … the natural setting that’s all around Park Rapids.”

Getting the brushes wet

Lions Club members gave the wall a primer coat last weekend. Other than that, Preslicka did all the painting himself, working from scaled-down sketches and full-color printouts of the mural.

He started Monday afternoon by sketching in the outlines of the artwork in a single, light brown color. By the same time Tuesday, colors and details were starting to become visible, starting at the east end of the wall, closest to Main Avenue.

Originally from the small Minnesota town of New Prague, Savage lives in the Twin Cities suburb of Savage. He and his wife, Heidi, have five children, ages 18-26. Their youngest son, Alec, plans to major in graphic design at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

“My background is graphic design,” Preslicka said. “I’ve done it for almost 30 years now.”

He has done retail packaging design and illustration for such companies as General Mills, Nabisco and 3M. His sideline as a muralist started about 12 years ago, when his kids asked him to put a unique touch on their bedroom walls.

“My wife thought, maybe, other people might like that,” said Preslicka. “So, we started doing some bedroom kind of stuff. Smaller stuff. Then we had the opportunity to bid for a large project, for a YMCA gym.”

That led to more work on the larger scale of public murals, he said. “I still do the design work, but it’s a nice way to get out from behind a computer and get outside sometime and do some painting, because I love to paint.”

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Preslicka always knew he was going to be an artist. “I didn’t always know what that meant, but I thought, ‘This is what I want to do when I grow up,’” he said.

After high school, he studied commercial art and graphic design at Minneapolis College of Art and Design and at the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul, which closed in 2013.

He said his style has evolved over the years, and he tries to make each mural reflect the community or organization that commissioned it. He described it as a problem-solving exercise, determining the best way to convey the message of the people who hired him.

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Preslicka continues painting at about noon Thursday, after progressing more than half the length of the wall. "It's been going great," he said. "Lots of people coming by and saying hi and watching the progress. ... Getting a lot of good feedback." (Robin Fish/Enterprise, June 24, 2021)

Steering the project

Guiding the mural’s development was a steering committee, representing Heartland Arts, the Park Rapids Downtown Business Association, the city Parks and Beautification Board and Arts and Culture Advisory Commission, as well as local artists.

Committee members were Bickey Bender, Stephanie Carlson, Paul Dove, Kent Estey, Laura Grisamore, Cynthia Jones, Julie Kjenaas, Cathy Peterson, Elmer Schoon and Elizabeth Stone.

The project was funded, in part, by a grant from the Region 2 Arts Council, thanks in turn to a legislative appropriation from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Other donors included the Park Rapids Community Fund; the Hedeen Charitable Fund, a donor-advised fund of U.S. Charitable Gift Trust and Itasca-Mantrap’s Operation Round Up.

Heartland Arts also acknowledged the support of Stephanie and Karl Carlson, owners of Enjoy.

“When we purchased the building, at the very end of December, obviously, I saw a wall on the side of the building that was next to a park that was very well visited,” said Steph Carlson. “I just thought (a mural) would be a neat thing to do. I thought it would be something that not only the community, but visitors would interact in and view.”

Carlson voiced satisfaction with the process the committee went through, and described Preslicka’s design concept as beautiful. “We wanted something that was not only beautiful to view, but something that was kind of interactive,” she said, hinting that people could pose for photos next to parts of the mural.

Hurd-Lof credited Carlson with coming up with the idea of a river flowing through the mural, tying it all together. Carlson, meanwhile, praised Hurd-Lof’s fundraising efforts. “We couldn’t have done this without her,” said Carlson.

Both spoke highly of the amount of support the project received from the downtown community, the Chamber of Commerce and the Lions Club.

Tami Hensel, proprietor of Cattail Creek Framing, called the idea of the mural wonderful, especially with the lighting the Carlsons installed in the eaves along the wall. “It’ll be available for people to see 24 hours a day,” said Hensel. “I think that’s great.”

Enjoyment in the work

When he paints for pleasure, Preslicka likes to do what artists call plein air painting, most often in secluded, outdoor areas.

“I love this kind of outdoor scene,” he said. “A lot of what and how I’m painting this comes from that, my love for nature.”

Hurd-Lof said Preslicka also enjoys interacting with people while he’s painting and answering their questions.

Already on Monday afternoon, Preslicka said he had “quite a few people swinging by and watching for a little bit, and checking out the sketch to see what it’s gonna look like in the end.”

Related Topics: PARK RAPIDS
Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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