Secondary roads: Plywood and paint | New

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The Sauk Center, Minnesota Area Historical Society, along with area artists, have created a drive-in outdoor art gallery on US Hwy. 71 at the north end of downtown. The gallery is made up of about ten paintings produced by artists-citizens of the territory. The art is installed on the high boarded up windows of a large red brick building that most recently housed the Main Street Dairy – the Pride of Main Street milk bottler.

The lower half of the building will celebrate its centenary next year. The upper half was built by its first owner, Blue Valley Corporation of Chicago, in 1924. Blue Valley’s Sauk Center Creamery was part of a network of creameries that became one of the largest butter-making operations in the country. The creamery had many lives besides Blue Valley (including as one of the few kefir bottlers in the country) before being donated to the Historical Society in 2016.

The Historical Society plans to renovate the building and move its museum (now located in the basement of the city’s Carnegie Public Library) to the second floor of the Creamery. The renovated and expanded museum will share offices with the Sinclair Lewis Foundation. The first floor is intended to be a restaurant, according to a sign affixed to the exterior wall of the building.

Recognizing that a renovation is a big project and that the Historical Society is a small organization, its administrators decided to take advantage of its exterior wall by creating the passageway. The gallery will be moved indoors when the renovation is complete.

The wide range of subjects in the paintings reflects the possibilities that 12 different artists can have – even if they all put their creations on window-sized plywood. There’s a painting of a young 4-H with his award-winning cow. It certainly fits the creamery theme. One of the talented artists has used wonderfully vibrant colors to create a red-winged blackbird taking flight from a cattail swamp. Another has created an icy blue dream world where an ordinary domestic cat is transformed into a ferocious lion. (Or is the lion transformed into a well-fed cat?) You decide. Another painting features the fierce eye, prominent nose, and bushy mustache of what is likely a curmudgeon.

Blue Valley Creamery paintings add depth to a remarkable array of murals and public paintings throughout the downtown Sauk Center district. Be careful though! Freeway noise at the Creamery can be deafening.

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