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Art Imitates Life in Wing, North Dakota

Arts | November 17th, 2023

By Sabrina Hornung

sabrina@hpr1.com

A trio of Burleigh County artists are making their mark in Wing, North Dakota, to promote local foods and are quite literally painting the town, or at least the newly acquired Wing City Government building. The building was a bowling alley in a past life and proved to be the perfect space for public art.

Molly McLain of Bismarck, Ella Swanson, and Allie Hein, both of Wing, joined forces to paint a mixed media mural incorporating both glass mosaic and brushwork. It features a bountiful garden with sparkling produce amid a backdrop of rolling fields and prairie, with a lone grain elevator and water tower in the distance.

Wing is a small ag community with a population of 130, located east of Bismarck on Highway 36. Upon visiting you’ll see their shining new Cenex, a small movie theatre, a bar, cafe and school. They take great pride in their local saddle club and rodeo.

The mural came to fruition through public health funding, maternal child health initiatives promoting farm to school nutrition, the Northern Plains Heritage foundation stepped in as well; all with the intent of promoting the local food movement and the heritage behind it.

As well as paying a silent tribute to the memory of the late Burleigh County Commissioner Becky Matthews.

“She was a farm girl, she had horses, and grew up on a farm and was just really a rural advocate, that's kind of how it came to be, because she questioned Bismarck, Burleigh public health at a Burleigh County Commission meeting, because she held the Burleigh County public health portfolio.” said artist and Executive Director Molly McLain of the Dakota West Arts Council.

McLain went on to say, “one of the gals from public health had been doing a lot of writing for grants to commission murals. And that was in the Bismarck city limits and Becky Matthews was like, hey, I'd love to see it. Love what you're doing within Bismarck. But what are you doing in the rural, in regard to visibility and art visibility? So, that’s what prompted this.”

That elicited conversations between Bismarck Burleigh public health and Dakota West Arts Council and the Northern Plains Heritage Foundation. Soon Julie Hein, Mayor of the City of Wing joined the conversation, she whose daughter Ella Swenson and daughter-in-law Allie Hein are both artists married to farmer/ranchers, so one could say, art imitates life.

The Department of Public Instruction was pulled in as well, they were thrilled to be a part of the conversation. Wing is active in the Farm to School program, and they were excited to see that made visible to not only the schoolchildren but to members of the community as well. McLain mused that perhaps in the future there could be planters or a free community garden near the mural to promote the message, and additions to the mural in the future.

“The plan is to make it Wing’s own art alley. So, being added on incrementally to cover the whole building on that side facing the highway eventually.” McLain said.

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