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Willmar, Minn., coffee mugs to be unveiled today, displayed downtown

Laura Welle designed her project, "Hello World! Hello Coffee!" to reveal greetings from around the world when various doors are opened on the mug. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)1 / 2
Willis Chase of Grove City transformed his mug shape into a tree-dimensional form that features several different art mediums. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)2 / 2

After three months, 20 area artists will finally be able to show off their work as their wooden coffee mugs are set to be unveiled tonight during the Willmar Fests Downtown Block Party.

The Willmar Area Arts Council and the Willmar Design Center teamed up to bring back the Kaffe Fest history by giving local artists a wooden coffee mug to design. The mugs will be on display downtown throughout the summer and auctioned off during the final Becker Market on Sept. 29.

The mugs, stemming from Spicer's "Fish Gone Wild" auction last year, will hopefully draw many people to downtown Willmar, said Laura Welle, one of the 20 artists.

"I think it'll be a huge attraction," Welle said. "People will come down to see the mugs because it's going to dress up downtown and everybody can enjoy them."

Welle, whose mug is titled "Hello World, Hello Coffee," incorporated a "global village" into a collage with coffee shops that have doors that say "Hello" in different languages when they are opened.

"It's about the world," Welle said. "Anywhere in the world you can get a cup of coffee."

The retired art teacher said she took some time to think about the concept of the mug and worked on it in stages beginning in April.

The artists were given the mugs on St. Patrick's Day in March.

"Whatever you're going to do with it, if you change your mind, it's going to cause a little trouble," Welle said.

Monica Villars, an art teacher at the Area Learning Center in Willmar, said she began brainstorming her mug "Jazzy Java," right away and began painting already in March.

Villars said she ran into a few other artists over the three-month period and discussed the unique challenge they all faced.

Villars also participated in the fish designs last summer in Spicer and found that the idea of public display and auction is a great way to make an environment more welcoming in the community.

"It'll be interesting to see what the community support is," Villars said. "It will be fun to hear what they have to say."

Unlike Villars, Willis Chase waited to start until a few weeks after receiving his coffee mug which stands 22-inches wide by 28-inches tall, with a thickness of two inches.

Chase, who worked as an advertising artist, said he knew immediately what his design was going to be when he was chosen to design a mug.

"I always had a knack to have an idea in my head before they get done talking to me," Chase said about his career in advertising. "(The mug) turned out the way I envisioned it when my name was drawn."

Using an array of talents, like wood carving and blacksmithing, Chase said he turned the two-dimensional piece of wood into a three-dimensional mug with a piece of steel rod shaped to look like steam rising from the mug.

Titled "Old Man Java," Chase painted mountain scenery with clouds and a large tree in the foreground with a face carved into a piece of a walnut branch.

"I went out of the way with this one," Chase said.

He said the wooden mug concept is a great way to explore a different canvas and think outside the box.

"It's a neat idea to have somebody give you a project with no limits," he said. "It was a very intriguing way of getting you to use other mediums or think of things in a different way."

A recent Northwestern College graduate, Shalese Sands agreed with Chase. She said the wooden canvas challenged her painting creativity.

"It was one of the most unique canvases I have worked on before," Sands said. "It was interesting to try and come up with a composition to work on both sides with such a unique shape."

Sands, a Willmar native, used acrylic paint to depict one image of a stand-alone moose while on the other side an image of a moose and its baby.

"I called it generations," Sands said. "Every time in the spring you see the baby moose out and it's like a yearly cycle with a new generation every year."

With more than 30 applicants entered to design the 20 mugs, the pool of area artists is expanding, according to Sands, and is offering a lot of different pieces of work.

"There is so much diversity in the Willmar area in the arts, which people don't realize as much," she said. "The artists have been privileged to do something like this and show off the artistic abilities in the community."

Chase, who likes to use all of his talents in his work, said the coffee mugs will help showcase the "hot-bed of closet artists" Willmar has.

"There are so many out there that don't have an opportunity to show the general public what they can do," Chase said. "It's a fabulous way for them to show their work and get ideas from other artists in the competition."