ISHPEMING – Standing on a boom lift extended skyward, Brad Anderson is painting, some 30 feet high, a mural both intensely personal and one with which most in the Ishpeming community can identify – a tribute to the area’s iron ore miners.
Diane Gauthier, owner of St. Onge Insurance Agency, commissioned the 31-year-old Anderson, her nephew and the owner of Melvin Creative Co., to paint the piece on the brick face of the north wall of the insurance agency’s office building on Main Street in Ishpeming.
The mural depicts Gauthier’s father, Melvin Anderson (Brad’s grandfather), her father-in-law, Paddy Gauthier, and her brother-in-law, Scotty, at the forefront of a mine tunnel, with rail tracks stretching into the distance behind them. And though he’s long been an artist, Anderson said Scotty’s, Paddy’s and Melvin’s faces are the second, third and fourth he’s ever painted.
Of what he thinks the mural means to the community, Anderson said: “It’s the history. …Other people’s grandparents, their grandpa and their dad, worked in the mine, and it’s a mining community. Those guys – it takes a special guy to go down in the mine. They’re doing it for their family and what they need for their family. I think there’s just some connection; (if) you’re from around here, you know somebody that was in the mine, maybe even passed away down in the mine. There’s just that different connection with everyone around here. And even beyond that … it’s a blue collar community.”
Gauthier agreed, saying that, to her, the mural was a reflection of the community.
“You can’t go anywhere usually … without finding a dad, brother, cousin, uncle, neighbor, whatever, that works for Cleveland-Cliffs (now Cliffs Natural Resources),” she said. “So my dad and my father-in-law and my brother-in-law came through Cleveland-Cliffs and they’re all deceased. And when you really think of our community and why we … thrive up here is due to an industry like Cleveland-Cliffs. These guys go to work every day, and it began in the underground (mines) – and maybe they’re not underground anymore, but they are mining.”
For Anderson, the piece is also about his heritage, his family: “…It’s also that I can come here years from now, and hopefully even with my grandkids, and show them what their grandpa did,” he said.
He said the response to the mural so far has been overwhelming and positive, oftentimes filled with emotion.
“It also just means something to me because there’s been so much – I’ve been humbled by the community, just people coming up and saying thank you to me – and I’m just the artist painting it – but they’re thanking me for doing it and just saying great job,” he said. “Whenever you get compliments … on your work, it’s obviously a great thing. But people coming up and talking about what it means to them – and some people even get choked up, you know, standing here talking. So … if I can do that to some people and help the facade, the look of Ishpeming, then great.”
Many know the faces on the wall, Anderson said, and for the ones who don’t, they connect with something equally personal – a sense, a recognition, of their own history being told back to them.
“(There are) some people that have worked with all of them. A lot of people recognize Scotty – he’s the youngest one out of the three, so a lot of people have recognized him,” Anderson said. “I mean, they recognize everyone. …Some people worked with ’em, some people just know ’em, some people are neighbors and everything.”
Anderson said he sees Ishpeming as both a mining industry town and an artistic community with a blue collar aesthetic, a place that, in expressing itself, shows an appreciation for the past.
And since starting work on the mural, he said, several other people have approached him about doing more murals around town.
“I’m definitely open to that. I’m excited for that,” he said. “And hopefully I do get the chance to do some other buildings around here and in the community, because I definitely enjoy it.”
Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401.