Virginia mural depicts Silver Lake Beach

An artist's drawing of the new mural which will be installed in downtown Virginia at the end of September.

VIRGINIA — The city’s iconic lake in the middle of town will soon be teeming with beachgoers — year-round.

That is, once Virginia’s latest mural, depicting Silver Lake Beach, is installed on a main street building later this month.

Wisconsin artist Kelly Meredith, who created most of Virginia’s other downtown murals, plans to be in the city beginning on Sept. 22 for the placing of the mural panels on the back of Rocket Liquors at 528 Chestnut St.

The mural is one of the most vibrantly-hued of the nearly 10 already existing, said Ronda “Rudy” Harvey, executive director of the Virginia Community Foundation, which launched a non-endowed mural fund and had the first mural installed in 2008.

“This is the most fun I’ve had on a project in a really long time,” Meredith said by phone from her home in Butternut, Wis. This mural is a little different than most she and colleague, Sue Martinsen, have painted for the city.

A number of the artworks have incorporated lifelike images based on photographs of real Iron Rangers. However, “we didn’t think anyone would like to pose in their swimsuits,” Harvey said, “so the artist used models.”

However, the community will still have an opportunity to make a splash on the city’s newest mural.

The foundation is selling images of beach balls, which can be personalized with names of local individuals. The beach ball depictions will be added to a panel at the bottom of the 28-by-72-foot mural sometime next spring, Harvey said.

Images will be sold for $110 to the first 118 people who reserve a spot. As with the other murals, money given for the personalized drawings will go to the mural fund for upcoming projects.

The foundation’s mural committee, consisting of longtime and newer members, has been working with Meredith on the Silver Lake Beach-themed piece for the past two years, Harvey said.

The group is excited for yet another mural to help beautify downtown Virginia and pay tribute to part of the town’s history, she said.

That was the idea in 2008, when the foundation obtained grants and private donations to fund Virginia’s first mural. Meredith, a noted mural artist, was commissioned to paint that artwork, which portrays Wesley and Hartley Koski, brothers who bequeathed their entire estate worth more than $1 million to the Virginia Community Foundation in 1997, upon the younger sibling’s death.

The 16-by-64-foot mural commemorating the late second-generation Virginia hardware and furniture store owners has adorned downtown for a dozen years on the corner of Chestnut Street and Second Avenue.

The mural fund was established with a goal of commissioning at least 10 murals, Harvey said.

The city’s eighth mural, depicting Virginia high school athletes and coaches throughout the years, was installed in 2015 on the exterior gymnasium wall of the Virginia High School.

“We have many volunteers working again to help install the (new) mural,” Harvey said.

Andy Heisel, owner at Virginia’s Northwoods Construction Inc., and his team, along with Brad Saxhaug, will volunteer; Brandon Seppala, owner of Pohaki Lumber Co., in Virginia, is donating hardware and materials.

The Silver Lake Beach mural, showing a vintage scene of a number of beachgoers enjoying a day at the sandy shore, will include a text box explaining some of the beach’s history.

Meredith said she originally planned to include images of some of the lesser-known attractions that were once part of the shoreline, including a carousel and Ferris wheel the Fire Department Relief Association operated at Silver Lake in the 1940s.

Iron Range Historian Harry Lamppa of Virginia, who is in his mid-80s, said he remembers riding the carousel when he was about 10 years old. However, there are few good photos of the amusement park rides, so the artist chose to discard the illustrations from her original sketch.

The lake also once had changing stations and lifeguard posts. It was a huge draw during the summer months for residents who swam in the lake and sunbathed on the beach located off Ninth Avenue West.

However, the beach closed in 1987, due to supposed contamination and a mucky, weedy lake bottom. It didn’t re-open until 2011, after the Virginia Community and Lakes Committee was formed and a water quality study showed the lake met or exceeded all recommended standards for beaches.

The beach has since been used again as a gathering place, and for events, such as the summertime Virginia Farmer’s Market. The lake has been the site in recent years of log rolling and stand up paddleboarding yoga classes. And the Kline/Cuppoletti Building on Silver Lake Beach is available for rent through the city.

The beach — a significant part of Virginia’s history — will now be celebrated in art, Harvey said.

Just like other Virginia landmarks and people.

Virginia’s second mural, installed in 2009 on the building that previously housed the Virginia Community Foundation office at 519 Chestnut St., memorializes the much-loved and kindly Marty Biondich, a resident who loved to sweep the downtown streets and was fondly known by everyone in town.

The Veterans Mural, located on a building across from Virginia’s Bailey’s Lake and installed in 2010, includes the larger-than-life-sized images of area veterans.

In 2011, the Canelake’s Candies Mural, located near Subway and not far from the longtime candy store, went up to celebrate more than 100 years of the business.

The foundation’s fifth mural, dubbed, “Marching Blues: The Virginia Marching Band Through Time,” placed in 2012 on the Arrow Auto Supply building at 411 First St. N., contains the likenesses of VHS band members through the decades.

The following year, “Cruisin’ the Main” was created. The mural on the exterior west side of Chestnut Collision Center at 105 Chestnut St., shows vintage cars parked on the town’s main street, with historic buildings in the background, including the Steve’s Place hamburger joint, and Pizza Bill’s Pancake House.

And in 2014, the Ojibwa Mural, depicting historical and contemporary Native Americans and traditions, went up on the Virginia Department of Public Utilities Building on Sixth Avenue, between First Street and Second Street South.

Harvey said there is interest in other mural themes, including mining, railroads and skating.

Time will tell how many more murals will be created, she said. For now, Silver Lake Beach — during some of its glory days — will be commemorated in time.

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