Fresco painter Mark Balma and his partically complete "We the People." Image from Minnetonka Center for the Arts.

Minnesota-born fresco artist Mark Balma spent the past two months painting "We the People," a composite portrait of 10 international figures whose lives and work have sparked positive social change. The 9 ft. tall by 16 ft. wide fresco will be unveiled at October 6 at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts as part of a celebration marking the community organization's 60th anniversary.

Known primarily for frescoes with religious themes, Balma has divided his time for the past 30 years between Minnesota and Italy. He recently completed a ceiling mural in the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi, Italy, a project that spanned 15 years. Locally he has done frescoes for the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, St. Mary's College in Winona, and the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul.

Teens affiliated with the Minnetonka organization helped Balma prepare the fresh-plaster surface on which the fresco is painted. Besides measuring and marking the grid within which the images were painted, the students helped grind pigments and mix paints. Though the imagery is contemporary, fresco is an ancient art form in which pigments are brushed onto wet plaster which bonds with them as it dries, producing a vivid and highly durable surface. An antiquarian by temperament, Balma consciously alludes to the medium's history in his designs, in this case referencing murals from the 1930s and '40s commissioned by the U.S. government through the Works Project Administration, a now defunct agency.  The new fresco will be on view indefinitely.

A new show of work by Minnesota artists will open simultaneously featuring paintings, prints, photos and ceramic sculpture by Mark Balma, Alexa Horochowski, Maren Kloppmann, Chris Larson, S. Catrin Magnusson, Clarence Morgan, Todd Norsten, David Rathman, Elizabeth Simonson, Alec Soth, JoAnn Verburg and Megan Vossler. It was curated by architect James Dayton who designed the 10-year-old Minnetonka facility. The free show runs through Oct. 30.

Tickets for the 60th anniversary celebration and fund raiser are $150, of which $50 is tax deductible. (6:30 - 11 p.m. Saturday, October 6, $150. Minnetonka Center for the Arts, 2240 North Shore Drive, Wayzata. 952-473-7361 or

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