Mural of memories taking shape in Tracy

Artist working on ‘scrapbook-style’ project inside Tracy Library

Photo by Deb Gau Artist SammyJo Miller climbs up on a scaffold to point out some of her favorite details of a mural she is creating in the Tracy Public Library.

TRACY — A project at the Tracy Public Library has really gotten community members talking over the past three months, artist SammyJo Miller said.

It’s not just the scaffolding and ladders set up against one wall in the library — it’s the collage of images from Tracy history that is taking shape there.

“If I’m working during the day, people will want to share their stories with me,” Miller said. “It brings back memories.”

Since mid-February, Miller has been working on a mural running along the top of the north wall of the library, above the children’s section. Miller said the mural is a “scrapbook-style” collection of historical text, old local advertising and signs, and recreations of photos from Tracy’s past. The mural project was made possible through a grant from the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council, and support from the Fine Arts Council of Tracy, Miller said.

On Wednesday, Miller talked with a group of area homeschool students about how she’s creating the mural.

The background of the mural is made up of reproductions of the first 180 pages of the history book, “Tracy’s First Hundred Years,” Miller said.

Then, she added charcoal drawings that reproduced photos from Tracy’s past.

“Charcoal is what I work best in,” she said.

Miller said she had done artwork in a similar style in Lamberton, which helped serve as an inspiration for the Tracy mural.

“I wanted to do something bigger,” she said.

The photo wall at the Wheels Across the Prairie Museum in Tracy was another inspiration for the mural, said Tracy Library Director Valerie Quist.

Working with the Wheels Museum to choose historic photos for the mural was one of the fun parts of the project, Miller said.

“I was like a kid in a candy store. I got to pick all my favorites,” she told students.

So far, the images that made it into the mural include past landmarks like the Tracy railroad station and stockyards, Craig’s Pool Hall, the Neon Cafe, and more. Miller said she tried to preserve scenes from places in Tracy that no longer exist.

Some of the images were drawn directly on the wall with charcoal, Miller told students. Other parts of the mural were transferred onto the wall.

Miller said she plans to have a total of about 30 pictures in the mural. It takes her a few days to complete a single picture.

“I edit as I go,” she said.

She shared one sketch of a “deleted scene” with the students. The image, a picture of the old Tracy public school, had to be cut out of the mural design because it wouldn’t fit in the space she had originally planned for it.

“I do a lot of math,” she said of measuring out space on the wall.

The kids asked Miller about working on the scaffolding she uses to reach the mural.

“That is easy to work on. The ladders are harder,” she said.

Once the mural is complete, Miller said the next step will be to seal it and add a special varnish to protect the artwork from the sun.

Miller and Quist said the community response to the mural project has been good to see.

“It’s been amazing,” Quist said.

People really started to warm up to the project as Miller started adding images, like the charcoal drawing of a train engine at one end of the mural.

“It was so exciting, as the train started to take shape,” she said.

People liked to see their local history reflected in the art, Miller said.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.38/week.

Subscribe Today