A diverse group of artists — many with Native American and Latino ties — has been selected to create four new murals to be displayed next spring at the historic City Hall and Ramsey County Courthouse in downtown St. Paul.
A community task force organized by the Ramsey County Historical Society chose the artists after reviewing 20 applicants and interviewing nearly half of them.
The artists are the “Latinx Mural Apprenticeship Project” organized by Latino nonprofit CLUES; Emily Donovan, of St. Paul; Leah Yellowbird, of Grand Rapids; and Adam Swanson, who lives in Cloquet on the Fond du Lac Reservation.
City and county leaders last December directed the Ramsey County Historical Society to commission new art celebrating the people and progress of St. Paul and Ramsey County. The new works will hang in the council chambers alongside some of the original murals, 22 feet tall and 5 feet wide, painted by Chicago artist John Norton when the building opened in 1932.
“The selected artists have identified a variety of approaches to this project that are inclusive and representative of our community today,” said Chad Roberts, president of the county historical society and chairman of the community task force. “We are honored to be working with these talented people.”
Norton’s four murals, painted in a style called WPA Moderne, were designed to show the growth of St. Paul and feature a voyageur, steamboat captain, rail surveyor and laborer.
But they have undergone scrutiny in recent years for their portrayal of people of color in what one St. Paul council member called “subservient roles.”
The four prominent figures, all white men, tower over groups of people that include white laborers, black men loading cargo onto a river boat and two American Indians looking on as a white priest holds a cross. Few women are shown in the murals.
The tentative plan is to display two of the new murals on top of two of the existing Norton murals, the other two of which would remain on display so that at any given time visitors would see two historic murals and two modern ones. The new and old art would be rotated and include interpretive text.
Artists will begin work immediately, meeting with the task force to give periodic updates. Artists and the task force will host two public meetings to share progress; the first is set for 7 p.m. Dec. 16 at the East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier St., St. Paul.
Artists are expected to complete their murals by April, with installation of the new art set for May.