Public Art on the Coolest Coast

Bike passes Ruth West mural

Whether looking for it intentionally or stumbling across a piece by accident, public art is a flourishing art on the Coolest Coast. After Manitowoc’s first work of street art was awarded a Beautification Award by the state of Wisconsin, it quickly became apparent that the surroundings of the Port Cities could be viewed as canvases, and became the new spaces for both established and upcoming artists, whether it be solo pieces or collaborative efforts. From works of art standing out in the public view, to pieces that are tucked away in spots for the wanderer or explorer to find, the public art of the Coolest Coast dedicates itself to the past, future, and passions of the Port Cities. 

The Maritime Triptych is a three paneled mural found on Quay Street, across from Manitowoc city hall. Painted by Jason Prigge, the piece was the first of many public art pieces in the city of Manitowoc. The triptych is an homage to the history of shipbuilding in Manitowoc, and shares a snippet of the historic events that have taken place on Lake Michigan.

A continuation of those themes and motives can be found in the Progress mural, painted by Erin LaBonte, David Carpenter, and Stephanie Carpenter. Situated on the 10th Street Bridge Tender’s House, the mural’s style was inspired by 1920s-era copies of the Manitowoc Herald News, and celebrates the past and future of the Coolest Coast. Nearly one hundred years later, the transformation of the lakefront and strength of the local people continue to be seen in these public forms of tribute.

Progress Mural

It isn’t just the historic facts and events that make the Coolest Coast a place overflowing with rich culture and knowledge; it’s the historical figures as well. Ruth West, who has had an incredible influence on the Coolest Coast, can be found memorialized with a mural on the corner of North 8th Street and Maritime Drive that is as bright and vibrant as she was in her time. Her portrait is portrayed beside one of her many quotes: “I have been generously endowed with an imagination, and have been given the health and strength to do its bidding.” Ruth West’s continued impact can also be found at locations such as the Rahr-West Museum and West of the Lake Gardens.

A recreation of The Great Wave Off of Kanagawa honors the unique bond between Manitowoc, Wisconsin and Kamogawa, Japan. A sister city relationship that has existed since 1993, other examples of Kamogawa in Manitowoc can be found throughout the city, including the Kamogawa Room at the Rahr West Art Museum. Inspired by the famous 1831 piece, “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” by Hokusai, the mural is one of the newest additions to Manitowoc’s growing collection of street art. Students from both Manitowoc and Kamogawa participating in the Summer Student Exchange Program got to apply a brush stroke or two during the process. And, to let you in on a little secret, the Japanese kanji in the upper left corner says “sister-cities forever”.

Sister-City Mural

Another treasured piece is installed along the Mariners Trail. Spirit of the Rivers sculpture was completed by artist Skip Wallen and is dedicated to the very first inhabitants of the Coolest Coast. The Mariners Trail is dotted with other outdoor sculptures and art as well. 

These pieces are only the very beginning of what the Coolest Coast has to offer for public art! The Coolest Coast has a map with locations for all the murals discussed in this blog, as well as even more treasures to discover throughout the Port Cities and Mishicot. The future continues to hold more opportunities for artists to flourish and share their art with the world, and public art will continue to be a valued part of the local culture.

With pieces dedicated to the past and future of the Coolest Coast, from the whimsical to the historical, to the infinite passions and opportunities that can be explored, there are treasures for all to discover!

Manitowoc Postcard
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