The mural that adorns the front of the K.K. Berge building in downtown Granite Falls gives new meaning to the term “public art.” It is the work of Granite Falls residents. The primarily blue and green tiles that flow across the front of the façade evoke the river that flows behind.
The K. K. Berge Building is a true survivor. First it survived the floods of 1997 and 2001 that inundated downtown Granite Falls. Then it survived the city’s flood mitigation project while the buildings around it were demolished and replaced by a flood wall.
It did not survive on its own. The city had purchased it from its last owner and it was slated to be removed like the rest of the buildings being replaced by a flood wall.
Seeing historic value in the 1924 building erected by a tailor, K.K. Berge, a group called Granite Falls Riverfront Revitalization (GFRR) came to the rescue. They purchased the building for $1. If they met requirements for keeping the building (which included raising the ground floor), they could access the $150,000 the city had allocated for its removal. With the help of generous donations, they accomplished the feat and saved the building.
GFRR sold the building to the Granite Area Arts Council, which has a gallery and gift shop there. The Arts Council wanted to honor all those generous donors. Artist Tamara Isfeld suggested the mosaic.
As Isfeld described it, she drew the pattern like a coloring book picture and laid it out on a table in the building. Her high school art students made tiles that included the names of the donors and put them on the mosaic. She also supplied pails of glass and ceramic tiles, plus items folks had dropped off. During the winter of 2013-14 people would stop in and glue a few tiles.
“It ended up being a core group that really got into it — plus a few people that strayed in and out,” Isfeld said. They ranged in age from 6 to 90. They had the freedom to apply any tiles or found objects they chose, as long as they stayed within the outline. Some brought pieces of their own.
The striking mosaic draws people to see what all is there. Only then do you notice tiles with the names of donors. Members of the community saved the building, then other members of the community honored them with the mosaic. K.K. Berge would be pleased how his original effort brought the community together.