Duluth commemorative artist helps depict local history

Published: Sep. 8, 2023 at 6:09 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) - If you’ve marveled at the murals at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center during a hockey game or while walking through the commons area at East High School, you have seen the art of a local commemorative artist.

For more than 30 years, Tim Cortes has been illustrating life’s most important moments.

“You never know where something is going to take ya, and who’s going to see it,” said Cortes.

For Cortes, art has always been a part of his life, something his family noticed early on.

He especially remembers the time spent with his grandmother.

“My siblings would be over here playing,” he said. “I’d be in the corner with paints and crayons, and she was a school teacher so she had all kinds of supplies. Whenever I saw my grandma, it was art time.”

Cortes grew up playing hockey, graduated from Duluth East High School, and went on to play hockey for the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities. His love for sports was at the center of his career as an artist.

“I started getting commissioned work from my friends who are playing in the National Hockey League who have won Stanley Cups, and who are getting inducted into the Hall of Fames and stuff,” said Cortes. “They said, ‘Hey, Tim Cortes is an artist, do you think he might be able to do a commemorative piece for you?’ And that just took off from there. That was 35 years ago.”

Cortes has gone on to create commissioned pieces for the Twins Championships Club at Target Field, the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, and the late Reggie White of the Green Bay Packers.

Cortes has expanded his reach outside of local art with pieces across the country, including a piece celebrating the 30th anniversary of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon that is hanging in the Smithsonian Institute.

“The fine folks of the Smithsonian saw that up at the Iditarod and asked me if they could include that in their permanent collection,” to which Cortes responded, “Absolutely you can!”

Some of Cortes’ most inspirational work can be seen outside a multi-purpose sports and community center in Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

“Pat Francisco and a group came up with the idea of what was the Heritage Center built on, what was the premise, and they came up with what was the values project,” Cortes said.

“We got a hold of Tim and he was up to the challenge, he did this incredible job of putting up these giant pieces of public art across our community center here that say who we are,” said Francisco, the Chairman of the Duluth Heritage Sports Center Foundation.

Francisco hears from a number of people in the community who want their children to be great athletes, but what they really care about is building character.

“Do they have a sense of commitment? Are they a team player? Do they have integrity, do they have courage?” Francisco asked before adding. “You know, that’s what we hope for our children, that’s what we hope for our grandchildren, that’s what we hope for our community. That’s who we are, so we’ve had a lot of great reactions and of course, they look and see who did the work and of course, it’s Tim Cortes.”

Cortes hopes those values will shine through on some of his recent work: Five wall murals for his alma mater, Duluth East High School, with one already completed in 2018.

“They have a big atrium in there with huge wall space so what they wanted was East High School through the decades. Each piece will be a decade, from the 50s on, so they commissioned me to do that all the way around. It’s a 5-year long process,” said Cortes before bringing up difficulties from recent years that have affected the timetable. “Probably longer now because COVID really set us back two years. It was supposed to be one a year, every year but I’m working on one for the end of September right now.”

Cortes said his success couldn’t have been possible without his family by his side, especially his two children and his wife Kathy.

“Thank God my wife believed in me and stuck with me because there were times when it was tough, but we kept pushing along,’ Cortes said. “You got to keep working.”

Cortes also has a passion for Native American History and would like to document it through his art.

His latest mural will be unveiled at the Duluth East High School Hall of Fame Induction on September 30.

If you would like to learn more about Cortes’ work, you can visit his webpage by clicking here.

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