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Murals Brighten Central Wisconsin

When you visit Portage County, Wisconsin, you’ll see thirteen incredible new pieces of art on buildings around the region. Through a program inspired by the New Deal, CREATE Portage County, a people-centered economic development organization in Stevens Point, WI, put artists impacted by COVID-19 to work painting murals inspired by themes including food, imagination, farming, refugee experiences, and resilience.

Eight of these murals were created in partnership with the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, Arts Midwest, and the Wisconsin Arts Board to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. These murals incorporate quotes authored by women from marginalized backgrounds, adding vibrant and meaningful public art that honors unique locations across Portage County.

Explore all 13 murals and the creative stories that inspired them:

Dondi Bueno

Image description: Mural of a close up of a blue octopus on a brick wall. The octopus’ head is light blue and it has big circular orange eyes. Its mouth is wide open, showing three teeth, making it look shocked or scary. There’s a small crown floating above its head to the right. Its tentacles are twisting around it and are dark blue with red suction cups.

About This Mural: California-transplant-turned-local-artist Dondi Bueno painted a mural on the wall of Zest to kick off the Paint the County! initiative. His mural features a colorful octopus.

Why This Location? Zest is a coffee shop and bakery located on the edge of UW-Stevens Point. It is a wonderful community space but tucked into a location that is hard to find. The mural helps to grow the visibility of this hot spot!

You Might Not Know: You can watch videos of octopi, known for being able to get out of almost any situation, spinning lids of jars or sliding through impossibly small holes. This content was chosen to remind us that we too will get out of the pandemic.

Stephon “KiBA” Freeman

Image description: Mural on the side of a tan warehouse building with a sign that says “Worzalla.” At the center of the mural is a silhouette of a young girl with an open book in her hands. To her left and right are big squares depicting beautiful scenes springing out of open books. They show a sun setting over an ocean beach, a bright yellow sun surrounded by green sky and trees, a dark orange and red sun set over water and a large tree, and an underwater scene with red fish swimming above black rocks in the blue and green sea. There’s a silhouette of a stingray seemingly swimming out of the scene.

About This Mural: UW-Stevens Point alum and Chicago-native-turned-local-artist Stephon “KiBA” Freema painted a mural on the wall of Worzalla Publishing in Stevens Point. His mural features a young girl reading and scenes from her imagination.

Why This Location? Worzalla is an employee-owned printing company founded in 1892 that produces high-end books for major publishers.

You Might Not Know: From Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Where the Wild Things Are, the books of your childhood were likely printed in Stevens Point, WI.

Jessie Fritsch

Part of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission*

Image description: Mural on the side of a building showing a profile view of Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the center. Different colors swirl and contour her face and hair, which is up in a bun. She has a stoic look on her face. She’s wearing a crown and the spikes are replaced with miniature silhouettes of people protesting with signs. She’s wearing a decorative piece around her neck which says “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. – RBG” Vibrant, multi-colored shapes are grouped in squares around her and cover the rest of the mural.

About This Mural: Local encaustics artist Jessie Fritsch and her art sisters painted a mural on the backside of the Mitchell Square Building as the cornerstone project of eight murals celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

Why This Location? The eight murals connected to the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission span Portage County. We wanted an iconic mural in a high-visibility location to grow awareness of the project and encourage people to visit the other seven.

You Might Not Know: In addition to memorializing Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this mural celebrates one woman of influence for every year since the 19th Amendment was ratified and includes many women important to Portage County’s history.

Jon King

Image description: Mural on the side of a small building at nighttime. The background is a cream white, and written in large, black, elaborate font are the words “City of Wonderful Water.”

About This Mural: UW-Stevens Point alum Jon King painted the City of Wonderful Water typography mural on the wall of Father Fat’s Public House in Stevens Point.

Why This Location? Father Fats serves up shareable small plates that blend the tastes of New York, Asia, Spain, and the Deep South. The restaurant is a key contributor to the thriving local food scene in Central Wisconsin, which takes farm-to-table to a whole new level.

You Might Not Know: Stevens Point got the nickname “The City of Wonderful Water” in the 1920s when it built Iverson Park to protect its drinking water. It reclaimed the title in 2010 when it won a taste test for best drinking water in the U.S.

John Kowalczyk

Image description: Multi-colored mural on the back of a tall building. Amongst tall grass at the bottom is a large blue colored hand with pink nails. The hand is holding a leafy plant of some kind, and two goat heads are depicted sprouting from the plant. Behind the hand there’s dark orange swirly fungi with two chickens seemingly growing from it. Above, there’s a red flowery plant with three heads of cardinals poking out. To the left, there’s another plant with leaves that have eyeballs. The sky is a swirling cloudy sunset of blues, pinks, purples, and yellows.

About This Mural: Milwaukee artist John Kowalczyk painted this trippy nature mural on the backside of two downtown storefronts in Stevens Point. The artwork plays with local flora by integrating images of the animals they are named for.

Why This Location? When Stevens Point razed its mall, it exposed the backsides of storefronts along the northside of Main Street. This mural is part of an effort to beautify what became visible as a result of that demolition.

You Might Not Know: The land now called Stevens Point has a rich history of conservation. For 14,000 years it was home to the Menominee tribe, whose forest stewardship informed what became sustainable forestry. In 1946, UW-Stevens Point created the first conservation major in the country.

Erin LaBonte & David Carpenter

Part of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission*

Image description: At the center of the mural are two open hands, palms facing up. It looks like the hands are freeing a bird. The bird is painted black with the words “When the whole world is silent even one voice becomes powerful” over it in white, pink and orange paint. The background is striped with rainbow colors and a pattern of orange and purple paint that resembles a butterfly wing.

About This Mural: UWSP alum Erin LaBonte and David Carpenter of Yonder Arts painted a mural featuring a quotation from Malala Yousefzai on the facade of Falcon One Stop in Amherst, WI.

Why This Location? This mural on Falcon One Stop adds vivid color to downtown Amherst, a smaller community in Portage County that has a rich arts scene with many artist studios nearby. You can visit these studios every October as part of the Hidden Studios Tour.

You Might Not Know: The People’s Fair in nearby Iola in 1970 rivaled Woodstock and drew a crowd of about 85,000 people, many of whom made a home in the Tomorrow River area that includes Amherst.

Thomas Moberg

Image description: A close up of a mural on a brick building. The painting is of a farm field; rows of bright green stalks lead up to blue body of water. There are hills in the distance that blend into the blue and purple sky.

About This Mural: Central Wisconsin resident and UW-Stevens Point alum Thomas Moberg painted a landscape mural on the wall of MC Z’s Brew Pub in Rosholt that is inspired by the farm fields that surround Rosholt.

Why This Location? MC Z’s Brew Pub is a family-friendly microbrewery that serves soups, sandwiches, pizzas, and appetizers. One of nine local breweries, wineries, and distilleries that make up the Central Wisconsin Craft Collective, Mc Z’s is part of the rich history of beverage making in Portage County.

You Might Not Know: Hops have been grown in Rosholt for generations. The community used to host dances to celebrate the hops harvest. Rosholt-grown hops are still used in local beers today!

Xee Reiter

Part of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission*

Image description: A mural of a woman from the side, with a small child strapped to her back in a cloth carrier. They are painted white with shadings of black and grey, and without most facial characteristics. The carrier is painted with vibrant pink and green; there’s also pink on the child’s hat, and the woman’s shirt collar is painted a soft blue.

About This Mural: Minneapolis artists Xee Reiter painted a mural in tribute to the Hmong refugee experience on the wall of the Point Market and Vietnamese Restaurant on the southside of Stevens Point.

Why This Location? Stevens Point is home to many Hmong community members and the Point Market and Vietnamese Restaurant is one of the many cultural assets we have because of the contributions of this community. The restaurant serves pho and other traditional cooking and the market imports Asian grocery items.

You Might Not Know: The Hmong community served as allies to the U.S. during the Vietnam War. After the fall of Long Cheng, a CIA airbase in Laos, many Hmong people were evacuated or fled to refugee camps in Thailand. The bright-colored bags featured in this mural are often called “refugee bags” and were used to hold their belongings.

Chris Sweet

Part of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission*

Image description: Mural on the side of a farmhouse surrounded by plants and rocks. The background is a dark purple, with an orange glow surrounding seven people who stand hand in hand. Each of them wear the same red outfit and have a white glow around their heads. To their left, in white paint, are the words “Those that kept us true to course, those that held our strength, that led us to stand as people of this land…by Denise Sweet”

About This Mural: Ho-chunk artist Christopher Sweet painted a mural on the barn at Fernwood Acres to recognize the influence of the Haudenosaunee on the Women’s Suffrage movement.

Why this location? Fernwood Acres is a farm south of Amherst on Highway 54 between Plover and Waupaca. The mural is best viewed when driving west and is nearby to Hartman Creek State Park, which offers camping, mountain biking, and access to the Ice Age Trail.

You Might Not Know: Christopher Sweet’s cousin Denise Sweet was the Poet Laureate of Wisconsin and wrote an original poem “Song for Seven Sisters” to accompany this mural.

Isaac Tapia & Rodrigo Alvarez (IT-RA Icons)

Part of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission*

Image description: Two people of medium skin tone, wearing sunhats and t-shirts, stand smiling in front of a mural. The mural depicts a young person in a white shirt and blue pants, with a long red ribbon flowing from her black hair. She is sitting on a rooftop near a tree and holding a telescope up to her eye. The telescope is pointed up at a sky of purple, red, and orange hues. She is sitting evenly with a large white moon in the sky behind her, and there are planets and stars swirling around it.

About This Mural: The Kansas City duo Isaac Tapia and Rodrigo Alavarez, also known as IT-RA Icons, painted a mural on the wall of Adelante to celebrate the growing Latinx community in Almond, featuring a young girl looking up at the stars.

Why this location? Adelante is a local farm-to-table café, coffee roastery, food marketplace, commercial kitchen to rent, and community gathering space in Almond, WI. It was a perfect spot for this mural due to its weekly pizza and taco nights, which draw a crowd to this outdoor dining space.

You Might Not Know: This mural is based on a quotation by Ellen Ochoa, the first Latina astronaut who first traveled into space in 1993. On her four spaceflights, Ochoa spent more than 40 days in space.

Jason Tetlak

Part of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission*

Image description: On the side of a short brick building, in funky pink lettering over white and light green paint, read the words “I love the way I feel when I pass the moon and I holler to the stars I’m coming through.”

About This Mural: Florida artist Jason Tetlak painted this train-inspired mural on the former Central Waters Brewing location in Junction City.

Why this location? This mural location was once home to Central Waters Brewing, which has now moved to Amherst and has opened a second location in Milwaukee. Central Waters, best-known for its barrel-aged brews, is a part of the rich brewing tradition that started with the Point Brewery, the fifth-oldest continuously operated brewery in the U.S.

You Might Not Know: Jason Tetlak has studied paint colors to figure out how to make 3D murals. When viewed through a red filter, these paintings reveal a hidden image.

The Thielking-Brunett Family

Part of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission*

Image description: Mural under an overpass bridge in a river. It is painted light blue, with a woman of medium skin tone and black curly hair at the center. She’s blowing dandelion seeds off of her hand, which float off into the distance. It looks like she’s in water, as swirly designs resembling waves, and closely matching the pattern of her hair, come up to meet her shoulders. To her right, in yellow paint, are the words “Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin Culmel” and the dates “2/21/1903-1/14/1977.”

About This Mural: UW-Stevens Point art professor Kristin Thielking, Keven Brunett and their kids painted a mural featuring a mermaid on the support pillar of a bridge that crosses the Wisconsin River adjacent to a bike trail called the Green Circle Trail.

Why this location? The Green Circle Trail is a 28-mile bike loop that encircles Stevens Point and takes cyclists and hikers through some of our most beautiful nature areas. We wanted more art to greet people making use of this trail system.

You Might Not Know: To paint this mural, the artists had to set up scaffolding in a moving river that was about three feet deep. The mural also extends to the bridge and trail creating an immersive art experience.

Amy Zaremba

Part of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission*

Image description: Rectangular-shaped mural on the back of a brick building. In the center, there’s a pile of seeds with leaves and flowers growing from them. To the left there is a scene of a tractor driving through a farm field under a blue and cloudy sky. To the right there are two hands holding a pile of potatoes. Below that are the words, “‘Keep planting, sowing, living and knowing that beautiful things take time.’-Morgan Harpor Nichols.”

About This Mural: Madison artist Amy Zaremba and friends painted a mural honoring the potato-growing traditions of Almond, Wisconsin on the Almond Public Library.

Why this location? The Almond Public Library also serves at the Village Hall and is in the center of the community. Mural locations were chosen in part to spread creative energy to all communities in Portage County.

You Might Not Know: This mural integrates the colors of the suffragettes: purple, white, and gold.


All photos courtesy of CREATE Portage County.

* Projects marked with an asterisk are part of a partnership with the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, Arts Midwest, and the Wisconsin Arts Board that celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment through murals that incorporate inspirational quotations authored by women from marginalized backgrounds, adding vibrant and meaningful public art that honors these unique locations. The Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission was created by Congress to coordinate a nationwide commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, ensuring that Americans across the country find inspiration in this important milestone.