Celebrating women, diversity through art
To celebrate the 19th Amendment, eight of the new murals feature quotes from women who come from marginalized backgrounds. Organizers chose the women and the quotes that would be featured and then put out a call for artists to submit designs earlier this year.
Fritsch, 40, was commissioned to paint the mural of Ginsburg. Frisch has built a career on creating paintings in encaustic, a beeswax-based paint, but this is the first time she's led the charge on a public mural.
Set against a background of colorful blocks is a profile portrait of Ginsburg, who died last year after 27 years on the Supreme Court. Her famous words "Women belong in all places where decisions are being made" are painted within her lace collar, which was a famously symbolic part of her official wardrobe.
Artist Jessie Fritsch poses for a portrait in front of her mural of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday, October 8, 2021, in downtown Stevens Point, Wis.
Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
A crown, shaped like a crowd of protestors to reference the women's rights marches that have taken place throughout the country, sits on her head. The crown itself is a reference to the popular comparisons made between late rapper The Notorious B.I.G. and Ginsburg, who earned the nickname "The Notorious RBG."
As a way to honor the 19th Amendment itself, the mural also includes a quote from Alice Paul, one of the main leaders in the fight to allow women to vote. The quote says, "I always feel the movement is a sort of mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone ..."
Surrounding the quote are multi-colored stones and the names of 101 influential women, one for each year since the amendment was ratified. Though 2020 was the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, an additional name was added for 2021 since that's when the mural was completed.
Fritsch said that in addition to a few women who were mentors to her, names also include women from across the U.S. and Portage County. She plans to add a new name each year.
At Point Market & Vietnamese Restaurant, a mural by St. Paul-based artist Xee Reiter decorates the side of the Church Street building. A quote by Kao Kalia Yang reads, "Lasting change cannot be forced, only inspired." Yang is a Hmong-American writer who has written memoirs and children's books, one of which features Reiter's illustrations.
For murals like Reiter's that feature cultural messages, Wright said CREATE worked with locals in those communities to identify artists whom they wanted to participate. Organizers advertised the opportunity through art partners across the U.S. to make sure artists knew about the program.
A mural by Xee Reiter is seen on Thursday, October 14, 2021, at Point Market in Stevens Point, Wis. The mural features a quote from Hmong-American writer Kao Kalia Yang.
Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Reiter, 37, a first-generation Hmong American, said that while public art is common in communities, it doesn't always reflect the people who live there. When CREATE reached out to her to submit designs, she said she felt a sense of pride.
Once she knew that Yang would be the featured woman for the market site, Reiter knew that was the mural she wanted to create.
Reiter said she wanted to depict the story of Hmong people in the mural. Along with Yang's quote, it features Hmong families. She noted that the people in the mural are facing the same direction, but you don't know if they're coming or going.
"No matter where they are, where the Hmong people have ended up, that’s where we call home," Reiter said.
She dedicated the mural to the Hmong families of Portage County.
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Erin LaBonte, 38, painted the mural on the side of Falcon One Stop in Amherst. The mural features a quote from Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who is known for fighting for the rights of young girls in the Middle East to receive an education. Yousafzai became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17.
LaBonte, a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate, is an assistant lecturer at the UW-Green Bay campus in Sheboygan and owns an art studio in Algoma named Yonder.
The mural reads, "When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”
Malala's famous words are painted inside the shape of a bird, which LaBonte said she chose to represent a sense of freedom.
A mural by Erin LaBonte is seen on Monday, October 18, 2021, at Falcon One Stop in Amherst, Wis. The mural features a quote from Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.
Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Public art teaches, and supports local business
A lone biker riding the Westside Loop of the Green Circle Trail stopped on a warm fall Friday to take a photo of his bike with the mural that is tucked away under a bridge along Portage County HH.
"I had to get a picture of this," he said.
Kristin Thielking, 52, and Keven Brunett, 54, along with their 15-year-old daughter, Rowen, are the painters behind the mural of Cuban-American-French writer Anais Nin. The artists said a lot of people stopped to admire the mural while they were painting it.
Nin's words — "I must be a mermaid, I have no fear of depth and great fear of shallow living" — are painted among images of floating dandelion seeds that cascade across the mural, the underside of the bridge and the surrounding rocks. Appropriately, the image of the mural reflects perfectly in the water below.
Brunett said public art like their mural reaches a different type of audience, almost by accident. Thielking added that coming across a mural, especially one that's more hidden, is memorable and can cause people to think more about the ideas being presented.
A mural of Cuban-American-French writer Anais Nin painted by Kristin Thielking, Keven Brunett and their 15-year-old daughter Rowen. The mural is located along the Green Circle Trail under the County HH Bridge in Stevens Point.
That notion is something the artists incorporated into their mural of Nin.
"You never know how far a word or an idea is going to go once it’s put out into the world," Thielking said. "These particular dandelion seeds, they go far. They just go, and so we thought that was a really good, kind of, connection or metaphor for what Anais did with her writing."
LaBonte, too, said people who came across her mural were immediately interested in learning about Malala.
"When we were painting it, there were people Googling Malala on their phones and there were conversations about her while we were there," LaBonte said.
Fritsch said she also had people come up to her and express emotion over the mural and how much Ginsburg means to them. She said community members' reactions drove her to learn more about the late Supreme Court justice so she could engage more in conversations.
"When people bring their young kids and are teaching them, that's what gets me," Fritsch said.
The Ginsburg mural has become a must-see in downtown Stevens Point and an opportunity for everybody to learn more about influential women. Fristch created a website for the mural, which people can visit to see photos and information about the 101 women whose names are featured on the mural. People who visit the website also can buy merchandise featuring images of the mural.
Aside from the beautification and the political and social awareness the murals create, they can also have an economic impact. The murals are believed to have drawn more people into nearby stores and restaurants.
"People who have never spent time in some of the rural communities are going there and seeing those (murals)," Wright said. "Typically, when they are there, they are going to get a beer at MC Z's (in Rosholt) or stop for a pizza night at Adelante in (Almond)."
People can look forward to more public art in the future.
CREATE members have committed to another round of murals next year. They're still finalizing a theme and plan to put out another call for artists soon.
"One of the things that I love about public art is that it is seen by everybody," Wright said. "You don’t have to feel comfortable walking into an art space. You see it every day on your way to work. It's truly owned by the people."
A mural by IT-RA Icons is seen on Monday, October 18, 2021, at Adelante Café in Almond, Wis.
Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Contact USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin reporter Melissa Siegler at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @Marie2Melissa.
(The Pointer Photo/Sonia Tallroth)
Jessie Fritsch, a local Stevens Point artist, painted the “Trailblazers” mural in downtown Stevens Point, depicting Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a former Supreme Court justice who lobbied for women’s rights and died in September 2020.
The names of 101 other women who impacted Portage County, Wisconsin, and elsewhere in the United States, were also included on the mural.
101 names were chosen to commemorate 101 years of the 19th amendment, the amendment that gave women the right to vote.
The mural features the Ginsburg quote, “Women belong in all the places where decisions are being made.”
Frisch is not a mural painter by trade, so the process of planning to paint a mural was foreign to her.
She started by designing the mural and picking out each of the 40 colors used to create the mural.
Her initial plan was to create the portrait of Ginsburg and add names of 19 influential women to celebrate the 19th Amendment.
Multiple organizations reached out and asked her to add more names, so Frisch chose to feature 101 names.
In order to connect students and community members with more information on the featured women, Fritsch and her marketing assistant, Molly Andreae, posted all of the names and information about each woman on her website.
This website is linked to a QR code painted at the bottom of the mural.
“It will be a learning experience for the young people in our community,” said Fritsch.
Each year, Fritsch will add the name of an influential woman to the mural; the community will vote on who to include.
Her ‘artist sisters,’ Fritsch’s name for her local friends and creatives, helped her create the final design and paint details.
She also got volunteers to help her paint the mural; volunteers painted 75% of the background shapes, according to Fritsch.
“My community is really proud of this mural,” said Fritsch.
She has enjoyed educating herself and having conversations about the featured women, especially Ginsburg.
People come up to the mural regularly and talk with her about their experiences and the impact of Ginsburg on women’s rights.
Fritsch said that people will sometimes walk up to the mural in tears.
“As young people we don’t know what that was like… I get now why people come up to me and are very emotional,” said Fritsch.
With the support for the mural in Stevens Point, Fritsch has a vision to bring this mural format to different cities across the county and feature a multitude of women with this community-driven mural style.
Frisch grew up surrounded by artists and was encouraged at a young age to develop her talents.
She initially attended UW-Fox Valley, where Frisch fell in love with encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, which involves mixing heated wax with pigment to create artwork.
Fritsch finished her degree at UWSP; after graduating, she started attending art shows.
Frisch now owns an art studio in Stevens Point where she teaches classes on encaustic techniques and participates in art shows across the country.
“Trailblazers” was commissioned by an initiative of CREATE Portage County called Paint the County.
CREATE Portage County is a nonprofit organization dedicated to investing in local artists and entrepreneurs.
Paint The County is a project to support local artists during COVID-19 and beautify unused spaces in the county. The organization has sponsored 15 local murals.
Paint the County also partnered with the Stevens Point Historical Society to select quotes from women from underrepresented backgrounds that commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.
Nine murals featured these quotes and received grants from Arts Midwest as well as the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission.
Arts & Entertainment Editor