Holding On To History: New book about Great Depression public art projects in the works

This mining scene was painted in Ely's post office in 1941.
This mining scene was painted in Ely's post office in 1941.(kbjr)
Published: Jul. 31, 2023 at 10:04 PM CDT
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MT IRON, MN. (Northern News Now) - When the Great Depression hit in late 1929, 25% of Americans lost their jobs. The Roosevelt Administration used government programs to put people back to work. They were not just forestry or public works jobs.

“Artists, musician, writers and actors.” said author Brian Matuszak.

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The Work Progress Administration Federal Arts Project ran from 1935 to 1943. Brian and Sue Matuszak are working on a book about surviving WPA art in northern Minnesota. They’ve been researching six projects in four towns. The first is the Leonidas Merritt statue in Mountain Iron created by sculptor Robert Crump. Research indicates the 10 foot tall monument is a concrete mixture.

“I’m sure they created a mold for it and poured it on site.” said photographer Sue Matuszak.

International Falls has a mural painted by artist Lucia Wiley. It also has a statue sculpted by sculptor Evelyn Raymond of Duluth. Chisholm is home to a mining mural painted by Betty Carney. You can also find a sclupture done by Steven Sabine. Before publishing their book, the Matuszaks will be giving presentations in each town in conjunction with the Minnesota State Arts Board.

“It’ll be interesting to see what people have to say about those things and if they know anymore.” said Sue.

If folks do know more, it’ll make its way into the book. The book will also cover Ely’s murals done by tempera artist Elsa Jamne. She went down to the 13th level of the Pioneer Mine to get an accurate feel for her painting. Brian and Sue are eager to share the stories of these snapshots of what was important in the past.

“At one point, look what this town and the people in this town held up as being valuable and it’s still valuable and we should continue that on.” said Brian.

The first town talk about the artworks will be Wednesday August, 3rd in Ely on the Vermilion College campus. People are invited to see the Leonidas Merritt statue up close during Merritt Days in Mountain Iron. Brian and Sue will give the second of their talks Thursday, August 10th at 6 pm at the Mountain Iron Senior Center.

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