by Dennis Dalman
One July day, Jen Steinkopf, of Sartell, was up on a scaffold painting a giant butterfly on a brick building in downtown St. Cloud when she felt as if someone was staring at her.
From her height on the scaffold, she looked east and west up and down the narrow alley. Nobody there. Then she looked down behind her.
There stood a woman, maybe in her 60s, with a cane and wearing big sunglasses. Looking again, Steinkopf noticed tears were trickling down the woman’s face.
“What is wrong?” Steinkopf shouted down to her. “Can I help you?”
Staring up at the big butterfly, the woman said, “That is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
Tears of happiness, Steinkopf realized with a sense of instant relief.
The woman told the artist that she had just gotten out of the Anna Marie’s shelter for abused women, a survivor of domestic abuse. Butterflies, she said, had always been her symbols of hope, freedom, happiness.
Steinkopf realized her art had deeply touched that woman. She thanked the woman for her kind words, and then she too started to shed tears.
Raised in Sartell, Steinkopf is a 1996 graduate of Sartell High School. She is the owner of her in-home business, Savvy Signs & Designs, and she creates customized logos, business cards, greeting cards, holiday cards, wall décor and interior design, among many other creative projects, including wall murals.
When she was in kindergarten, she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“I want to be an artist,” she told the teacher.
She vividly remembers saying that and the teacher writing it on a piece of paper, which Steinkopf’s mother kept.
She recalls painting a mural on her girlhood bedroom wall, with her mother’s permission, of course.
“Some dreams do come true,” she said, although her road to a dream was sometimes a meandering one. She attended St. Cloud State University with the intention of becoming an art teacher, but then reality hit – the “reality” that there is a low to non-existent demand for high-school art teachers and those who do have that job tend to keep it for many years.
For many years, she was a server and bartender.
“I’d just bought a house,” she said. “I had to pay the bills.”
She also has been an executive assistant for the Community Foundation of St. Cloud and for a telephone company.
“When it comes to art, I’m kind of a chameleon,” she said. “I love to play with colors, and I can do just about anything.”
One of her projects was a mural on a wall inside of St. Francis Xavier Elementary School in Sartell, when both her children were students there. It was a painting done with inspirational words and sentences using various fonts and colors with the theme of “Be the nice kid.”
One day, Steinkopf was driving in her car with the radio on when she heard an announcement. Somebody wanted to paint murals and interested artists should submit design ideas.
“That was before the pandemic, before the world fell apart,” she said.
Steinkopf thought she wouldn’t win but toyed with the idea of submitting a design or two, just for the fun of it. She ran the idea past her friends, who heartily approved of her sketch for a mural of a stained-glass butterfly.
To her surprise, she was chosen for the mural job for a brick wall in the narrow alley behind Leighton Broadasting, downtown St. Cloud.
She partnered with Sherwin Williams paint store in Sartell, which supplied all the paints – exterior gray concrete paint and a veritable rainbow of high-gloss colors so bright they seem to pop off the wall in 3-D.
The mural, about 20 feet by 20 feet is the huge butterfly surrounded by smaller butterflies flitting. Next to the stained-glass-style butterfly it states: “Be the Change You Want to See in the World.” That quote from great Indian civil-rights leader Mahatma Gandhi is one of Steinkopf’s favorites.
To fix the design on the wall before starting the actual painting, Steinkopf, with husband Tom’s help, visited the Kinko’s printing shop where a huge paper butterfly pattern was printed out. Then she and Tom taped the patterns on the wall and traced them on the brickwork.
For the actual painting, which took many, many hours and days, Steinkopf used a ladder and a lift.
“Mural painting is my new passion,” she said. “I challenge other cities to do murals too, and I would be glad to paint them.”
Tom Steinkopf is employed by Xcel Energy. They have two children, Gabbie, 12, and Remi, 10.