Tim Krohn

Mankato is about to get one of its biggest aesthetic transformations as the eight massive silos at Ardent Mills are painted by world-renowned Australian artist Guido van Helten.

The murals will cover both sides of the silos along the river in Old Town and make a stunning statement, visible from great distances. It promises to be one of the most prominent murals in the state and perhaps the largest.

And van Helten is good at what he does. He's done silo projects around the world and all are breathtaking.

He's still developing what characters he will paint in Mankato this fall. He doesn't paint specific people but visits the community, photographs the residents, bores into the history and culture, and comes up with figures of people who are a composite of the community.

Farmers and flour mill workers are certain to be part of the project. The former Hubbard Milling has been a centerpiece of the landscape since 1878 and agriculture remains a huge part of the region.

One may well see Native Americans represented, considering their early history here, Mankato's dark past with them, and the new relationships that have grown in the reconciliation process. (Van Helten visited the powwow here last fall taking photos and chatting with people.)

But that still leaves room on the massive canvas.

It's tough to wrap your arms around what makes up the culture of a city.

Limestone quarrying is certainly a big part of history here and it continues, with Kasota stone used around the world. I'm not sure what a typical quarryman would look like, but that's a possibility for the silos.

We have Maud Hart Lovelace and her "Betsy and Tacy" book characters.

Glen Taylor's printing empire certainly puts us on the map.

But I'm not sure how van Helten would come up with a composite of a book author or printing magnate.

In 1885, ex-vice president Schuyler Colfax was traveling through Mankato on a bitter winter day, walked to the connecting train station and dropped dead.

Not sure that made much of a cultural statement about our city, though.

You probably don't know it, but Albert Halfhill, the father of the tuna packing industry, was from Mankato. Impressive, but I'm guessing a big tuna on a silo wouldn't fit in well.

Howard Burnham was born in Mankato in 1870. He was later a spy for France. Think we can pass on him.

We had a long history of Vikings training camp in Mankato, but helmeted athletes might not mix with the other more agrarian characters.

Mettler's Bar is certainly entwined in Mankato's culture and history. The local arts committee might not get on board with having an exotic dancer put on the silos, but there's interesting potential there.

Scads of people have seen the big, talking Happy Chef statue — the last one in America — as they drive through town. It doesn't exactly fit van Helten's folksy images though.

Still. Maybe he could paint some bib overalls on the Chef.

Tim Krohn can be contacted at tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com or 344-6383.

Follow Tim Krohn on Twitter @TimKrohn

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