backroads silos

The Ardent Mills facility in Mankato, Minn. was established in 1876. A fixture in the area since that time, the mill features eight 122-foot grain silos which stand tall along the banks of the Minnesota River. The steel-gray colored concrete structures have seemingly blended in with the surroundings for decades, until now.

The CityArt committee, comprised from the Twin Rivers Council for the Arts and the City Center Partnership had been searching for ideas for incorporating art onto the Ardent Mills silos. The silos are still in operation, so that had to be taken into consideration when deciding the type of visual art that would be best suited for the project.

The mill adjacent to the silos, according to the Ardent Mills website, has a daily capacity of 990,000 pounds of flour. The mill is thriving in providing jobs in Mankato — utilizing wheat grown by area farmers and producing flour that is distributed around the region, Canada and the Dominican Republic.

The CityArt committee came across the works of Guido van Helten, an internationally-renowned artist from Australia whose large-scale murals on various structures around the world evoke emotion by the veracity and connectedness of his art. The committee then worked on fundraising efforts with Ardent Mills matching the donations to bring van Helten and his talents to greater Mankato.

After visiting Mankato two times and working with local photographer Sara Hughes — as well as meeting with local native and non-native community leaders — van Helten came up with his vision for the mural and began painting in October. Van Helten’s aim is to capture the essence of the community in which he creates his mural art for. The Ardent Mills silos is one of the largest murals he’s painted.

Van Helten is focusing on the diversity of the people and rich history of the area. As the mural is taking shape, the spirit of a Native American child is exquisitely painted with photography-like precision. While van Helten’s murals are monochromatic pieces, it adds to the depth and breadth of the art, providing more a lifelike appearance. As the mural continues to be created, it will unveil the very essence of what van Helten is trying to capture.

The silos can be seen from U.S. Highways 14 and 169 in Mankato. The mural will stand as an artful testament to the true grit, resolve and beauty of the people in this area.