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Spicer, Minn., commissions regional artists for Poles Gone Wild beautification project

Art Norby paints red lips on a utility pole Tuesday in Spicer for Poles Gone Wild, a project organized by the Spicer Beautification Committee. Fourteen artists are commissioned to paint 15 utility poles around the city. The committee did a similar project in 2010, when artists painted large wooden fish to be displayed throughout Spicer during the summer. Tribune photo by Jasmine Maki

SPICER -- Between working with an unusual surface and dealing with knots, cracks and a fear of heights, local artists faced many challenges as they painted for Poles Gone Wild.

The city project organized by the Spicer Beautification Committee involves 14 artists painting 15 utility poles throughout the city. The artwork should be completed this week.

The committee did a similar project called Fish Gone Wild in 2010. Then artists painted large wooden fish to be displayed throughout Spicer during the summer.

This year, they decided to do something more permanent. After a few members brought back photos of painted utility poles in Pine Island, Fla., the committee decided to do a similar project.

Nextel Energy and the city of Spicer approved the project, and the committee began sending out grant letters to get funding. They received grants from Willmar Area Arts Council, Spicer Commercial Club and Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council.

"And we got all the paint from Valspar," said Sandy Saulsbury, coordinator of the event.

Artists submitted work and a sketch to be judged by three local art teachers. They were looking for artists that had a "strong sense of presentation and imagination," Saulsbury said.

Fourteen artists were chosen and each assigned to a utility pole in Spicer; one artist took on two poles. The poles are located in the public beach and boat access parking lots, across from Heritage Bank and along Manitoba Street, Lake Avenue and Progress Way.

From fishing to sailing, to water skiing, many artists chose water- or lake-related themes. Others painted a variety of subjects including an owl, horse, flowers, butterflies and birds. And one artist even painted the entire pole as a giant No. 2 pencil.

Donna Carver of Willmar, who also participated in Fish Gone Wild, was one of the artists chosen to paint a pole.

"I like to get involved with things like this," she said. "Anything that gets people to come out and look around is beneficial."

Carver's artwork mostly consists of canvas paintings of nature, and she chose a similar theme for her pole. She thought it looked like a tree because it was round, she said.

She painted her utility pole, in front of Baker Printing on Progress Way, as a birch tree with black spots, grass at the bottom and a couple butterflies throughout.

During the hour Carver spent painting her pole, height was her biggest challenge.

The artists had to paint their poles from two feet above the ground to a height of 10 feet, with circumferences ranging from 35 to 44 inches.

"I was kind of nervous about being on the ladder," she said. "It seemed a lot higher than it probably was."

Art Norby of New London also faced a few challenges as he worked on his pole. Norby is used to working on large-scale artwork and said the size wasn't a problem. But, he chose a cold, windy day to paint, which made it difficult to concentrate.

Norby began with a sketch in a notepad and transferred that sketch to the pole.

"As the painting evolves, it kind of takes on a life of its own, so you have to make some changes," he said. "The challenge is painting in the round, so as you look around, the composition continues to mean something."

Norby is known for his sculpting, but painting has become another creative outlet for him.

"I think a lot of artists, as they get deep in their craft, get bored," he said.

Painting lets Norby relax and keeps him from getting bored with art. His paintings are mostly of clouds, but Norby chose something more abstract for his pole.

His painted pole may appear at first glance to be abstract shapes, but Norby said it's full of nudes. "It's a day at the beach."

He drew inspiration for his pole from a mannequin sculpture he made, using similar colors and shapes to create the abstract piece.

Despite the challenges, each artist created a distinct piece of art, which will be permanent addition to the city.