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Community Mural Project Captures History, Engages Community

If you’ve driven past Bayside Bargains at 14 S. Madison Ave. in Sturgeon Bay recently, you probably noticed a big change. On July 28, the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society Foundation hosted a community paint-by-number mural event – the latest addition to the murals of Door County – and a very Sturgeon Bay–centric piece of public art was the result.

Driving up and down the peninsula, you’ll find several examples of murals telling the region’s history. In Baileys Harbor, the 96-foot-by-22-foot mural on the side of the former Nelson’s Shopping Center building – created through a collaboration between local poet Nancy Rafal and the Baileys Harbor community, and brought to life by muralist Ram Rojas – features historically and locally significant focal points and figures, including The Ridges Sanctuary’s Lower Range Light and environmentalist Emma Toft, among others. 

Farther north at The Clearing in Ellison Bay, Rojas painted the history and community significance of the year-round folk school on five massive walls that surround the balcony space in the Jens Jensen Visitor Center, with each wall depicting a specific person or element of the surrounding landscape.

When discussing the design of Sturgeon Bay’s community mural project and what it would depict, Laurel Duffin Hauser, president of the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society Foundation, said the group’s members wanted to carry out a project that would connect the maritime and agricultural history of Sturgeon Bay and raise more awareness of it within the community.

LaBonte and Krumpos started designing the mural in February and painted the parts of the mural too complex for paint-by-numbers, like the ship and bridge, or too high off the ground in about a week. Photo by Rachel Lukas.

“It provides more context,” she said. “It should connect a lot of dots for a lot of people.”

Algoma-based artists Erin LaBonte and Don Krumpos designed the mural – not the first community paint-by-number mural they’ve created – to showcase scenes and imagery of Door County’s maritime and agricultural roots, and to incorporate artwork by Annika Norz Uden, the winner of the 2022 Door County Seed Library’s Ken Paschke seed-packet design contest. LaBonte and Krumpos also painted the higher and more detailed aspects of it. 

(Left) Erin LaBonte of Yonder in Algoma directing people at the mural in Sturgeon Bay. Photo by Rachel Lukas. 

This project started when an anonymous donor – a local artist and historic preservationist – suggested the idea, Duffin Hauser said. The original suggestion was for the mural to be located at the Granary as a way to incorporate the community and art into that project, but LaBonte said she’s glad it now has a permanent home on the side of Bayside Bargains – a location she feels is in a visible place within the community. 

Though the mural wasn’t a fundraiser for the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society Foundation, Duffin Hauser said the group is still actively fundraising for the Granary project, and she’s hopeful that this latest community project – and the outpouring of support it received – will bring those efforts into the community’s headspace as well. 

In the meantime, Sturgeon Bay has added a new chapter to Door County’s storied mural history. 

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