by Dennis Dalman
The Sartell City Council and audience members recently got a sneak-preview glimpse of one of several Mill Art Project works.
Joe Schulte, Sartell industrial arts teacher, brought one of his artworks to the council meeting. It’s a long (about 6-foot long) piece of scrap metal that has been cut out and etched to evoke the skyline of the former Verso Paper Mill, as viewed from across the river in Veterans Park. The sculpture will be placed in Veterans Park so visitors seeing it will behold a visual approximation of the mill that used to be there, right across the Mississippi River. The skyline as depicted on the panel was based on a St. Cloud Times photo of the mill in the 1950s by Times’ legendary news-and-feature photographer Myron Hall.
The flat, long metal panel is the same sky-baby blue as the tallest part of the mill and its huge coal chute used to be, before they were torn down along with the rest of the sprawling mill, during a long demolition/reclamation process at the site.
After more than 100 years of operation under various names and owners, the paper mill was shut down forever after an explosion and fire on Memorial Day 2012 killed one man, injured four others and crippled the mill.
The Mill Art Project is a concept to memorialize the mill, its workers and its important place in Sartell history by repurposing metal scraps of it into sculptures that will be installed in city parks and at city hall.
Schulte also made a bicycle rack as part of his involvement in the Mill Art Project. There are a half-dozen sculptures created by various artists for the project, most of of which will be installed in Watab Park. The Mill Art Project is very close to raising the last couple thousand dollars of funding for the project. Cement footings will soon be poured as bases for the sculptures.
Schulte told the council the project cost more than first estimated, despite generous funding from the city and other area contributors.
Schulte said his heart is in the Mill Art Project because his grandfather owned a gas station on the east side of St. Cloud, and employees of the paper mill were loyal customers at the station.
Schulte praised the City of Sartell and voluntary help from Northside Welding for helping the arts project proceed. He told the council a couple thousand dollars is all that is left to raise from the $50,000 total. However, an update as of Aug. 24, revealed that since the council meeting, the arts group has raised all the rest of its goal. Now, it’s just a matter of lining up contractors to do the installations.
Sartell Mayor Sarah Jane Nicoll thanked Schulte. The paper mill, she said, was a big part of her childhood, when the plant was called the St. Regis Paper Mill. Nicoll’s father worked there, and she said she still remembers fondly delivering meals to him or picking him up there after work.
The Sartell Newsleader will do a more extensive feature story about the Mill Art Project and its artists once the sculptures are installed.