If you've ever walked around downtown Stillwater, you've seen the art of Randall J. Raduenz.

He's painted at least 20 murals in the area, including blown-up versions of old advertisements -- Wrigley's chewing gum, Palmora cigars, the Hersey Lumber Company -- that he created while suspended from scaffolding. His hometown collection of seven paintings is hung in City Hall, and his murals inspired by the town's logging history can be seen on the walls of the Main Café.

Those are just a few of the works that have become a part of Stillwater's façade and helped Raduenz make his mark.

"He's one of those guys that not everybody knows, but everybody knows of," said Robert Raleigh, who owns the Stillwater Trolley Company and does tours. He's had Raduenz reproduce a photo by John Runk, a Stillwater historic photographer, onto one of his trolley cars.

Raduenz said his reputation and the relationships he's built allow him to do what he loves. Much of his work has come from word-of-mouth references.

"It's satisfying," Raduenz said. "I don't have to go out and look for it. It kind of comes to me."

Raduenz started the Stillwater Art Guild Gallery on Main Street in 1999. It's a cooperative business where art -- anything from watercolor paintings to handmade jewelry to woodwork -- can be bought directly from local and international artists.

"I just love art," said Raduenz, who is 60. "It's my business. But I love it so much it's like not even a business. It's like being retired."

Still, he said, he's worked hard over the years, paying his dues at dozens of art shows and putting his name out there.

Raduenz was born in Stillwater on Nov. 28, 1951. His father lived in the Stillwater area before him and his grandfather before that.

When he was a kid, his relatives would give him art supplies for Christmas. He often would stay inside to draw during recess in elementary school. In sixth grade, his classmates started giving him their milk money for his drawings. Raduenz eventually got into trouble when teachers noticed that students were skipping lunch to buy his art.

He gravitated toward surrealism in high school, studying the likes of Dali. He drew with pencils, was introduced to acrylics and experimented with airbrushing. His art was influenced by things that "really bothered" him during that time, such as the Vietnam war and the atomic age.

In the early 1970s, he got his start doing murals on the Lowell Inn. He got more local recognition when the owner, Arthur Palmer, had him draw a portrait of Hubert H. Humphrey.

To get through art school in 1980, he painted Cub Foods trucks. He took classes at the Atelier Institute in Minneapolis and got a degree in graphic arts at the Technical Vocational Institute in St. Paul.

'Kind of an entrepreneur'

Everything took off in 1983. He took up photorealistic wildlife art and started going to national and international art shows. Since then, he's been the artist of the year for several organizations, including Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever. In 1985, he helped start a company that specialized in advertising, market research and signage, with branches in Burnsville, St. Paul and Stillwater.

"I guess I'm kind of an entrepreneur," Raduenz said, "but I never thought of it that way."

He's currently working on a buffalo series, where he paints layers of brown acrylics and stipples in the texture of the buffalo's fur. He's compiling a coffee table book of the murals he's painted in Stillwater. Over the years, some have started fading in the sun or chipped away with the buildings' old bricks. Some have been covered up.

"It's kind of sad and kind of shocking," Raduenz said. "You put a lot of work into one and you'd like them to stick around for a long time."

He recently made eight 2- by 3-foot paintings of Stillwater landmarks.

"Some I sold, some I gave to the Washington County Historical Society," Raduenz said. "I want to leave something behind for people when I'm gone."

Raduenz was diagnosed with leukemia in 1994. His father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the same year. He said his late father got him into hunting and nature. He now tries to preserve wildlife, especially in his art.

His father's work ethic and advice have been his guide, he said.

"You work hard, you treat people right and you do a good job, then it comes tenfold times back to you," Raduenz said. "I learned that, and I think that's what's really in my heart."

This year a New Richmond couple wanted him to make a storefront sign and some indoor lettering for their new business, Savor the World, a fine spice and tea company that opened recently in Stillwater.

Leonel Figueroa, who owns the store with his wife, Nancy, said Raduenz showed them the ins and outs of the town.

"He gave us more than what we went to him for," Figueroa said. "He told us that we're in the right place and that [our business] is a good thing for the town."

Raduenz lives in Stillwater Township with his wife, to whom he's been married for more than 40 years, and one of his three daughters. They have a hobby farm with some chickens and a cat on their five-acre plot.

"The good Lord is the one that's kind of looking over me," he said -- and the one who gave Raduenz his talent.

"He's just bringing everything to me," he said. "I just have to do the work."

Kaitlyn Walsh is a Twin Cities freelance writer.