'Heal with the Earth:' FMR's 2022 mural for water quality
If you visit the Phalen Park Picnic Pavilion, face the water from the parking lot and look down, you'll see a colorful mural celebrating water.
FMR's sixth mural for water quality, designed and painted by artist Graci Horne, is an invitation to reflect on how water nourishes the earth and connects us all.
Each year FMR works with community partners to create and install a water quality-themed mural near a storm drain at a park in St. Paul. As part of our Water Quality Education program — which also includes storm drain stenciling, cleanups and educational outings — these murals serve as reminders that our city landscape connects to the river through storm drains and that we can all work together to keep our water clean.
This year, we worked with Lower Phalen Creek Project to create a concept for the mural. We chose this location at Lake Phalen to highlight an important project that Lower Phalen Creek Project is leading: daylighting Phalen Creek and connecting the lake back to the Mississippi River.
Over the summer, we collected community feedback on the mural design. At Lower Phalen Creek Project's annual Pollinator Festival and classroom lessons across the city, we asked people to reflect on why they love water and how water connects us. We collected their drawings and writings, and these inspired Horne as she designed the image.
The final design represents the layers of the earth, extending all the way through the atmosphere and into space. The falling raindrops nourish plants on the ground, represented by wild rice stalks. In the sky, we see a bird, butterfly, bee and spider, all parts of our natural community that depend on water.
"I hope Native youth can see themselves when they see this. I remember looking at illustrations in science books and feeling the disconnect of spirit. I want young people to see the life and connectedness we have with everything. I hope that this inspires them to touch the water or even make a prayer with it and believe that every drop has a purpose just like they have a purpose."
—Artist Graci Horne
An interview with the artist
We asked Graci a few questions about her background and her process for creating this mural. Graci's conversation with us will also be included in our upcoming Cultural River Stewards curriculum project, which seeks to gather narratives and stewardship practices from different cultural communities along the Mississippi River.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background as an artist?
A: I would like to say that art came from someone in my life, but really it came from spirit. I started out by using the materials I had in my home, and I created new ways to use them. I pride myself in saying I was a low-income Native kid who thrived from attending free art workshops. The spirit of art led me to where I am today because I was able to learn many disciplines serendipitously. Today I am a multidiscipline artist and mother. It is harder and tiring, but I love it and am happy to bring my kids on my adventures.
Q: How would you describe your style, or what you like to make?
A: My style is the shapes and colors I am currently in love with. I also love messing with textures and portraitures. The art I create is the thing I want to see more of. If I feel something is underrepresented, I'll make a point to put it include it. I wouldn't say I have a style. I would say I create love stories for things I am vibing with at the moment. Most of that is feminism, the sacredness of children, sustainability and animals.
Q: How do you think art fits into environmental stewardship or activism?
A: As a Dakota person, I see art as being the only way to show humans how to make change because that practice is traditional to my people. Artists played a role and had a responsibility historically. We told stories and created historical accounts from our perspective. Art is the only way to deeply move people to appreciate the land, water, etc. Our role is to depict the past and how we can imagine a better life for everyone, not just for humans.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your relationship with the environment, the river or water?
A: I was born and raised in Minnesota. I can't imagine life without the rivers, as they were fundamental to my life. My art has a lean toward educating young people to step up and use their voices because no one is going to listen to an artist mom driving an SUV, but they will listen to the voices of the future.
Q: Can you describe the process of creating this mural?
A: I looked at the community's feedback and saw kids wanting to see the hydrogen cycle. I thought that would be neat to see it illustrated by a Native woman, so I went with responding to young people first.
Q: Can you describe what this mural represents?
A: It is the hydrogen cycle. I used Dakota floral to depict the sacredness of water, then it goes into wild rice plants, to the animals and insects, the atmosphere, and I included my own take with having the stars as they represent the ancestor's prayers.
Q: What do you hope people will think/feel when they see the finished mural?
A: I hope Native youth can see themselves when they see this. I remember looking at illustrations in science books and feeling the disconnect of spirit. I want young people to see the life and connectedness we have with everything. I hope that this inspires them to touch the water or even make a prayer with it and believe that every drop has a purpose just like they have a purpose.
Find our other water quality murals in St. Paul
In 2021, artists Thomasina Topbear and Tom Jay created a mural at an entrance to Swede Hollow Park, with input from Eastside community members. This design celebrates community connections to water, and reminds park-goers that water is life.
In 2019 and 2020, artists Liv Novotny and Violeta Rotstein created murals at Lake Phalen and Harriet Island. The 2019 Lake Phalen mural illustrated the many ways visitors enjoy the lake, and the wildlife they share it with. The 2020 Harriet Island mural featured a postcard-inspired design, welcoming people to the riverside.
Two earlier murals near Como Lake, created by artist Gustavo Lira in 2017 and 2018, feature elements from their surroundings: koi for the Como Conservatory, music notes for Como Dockside's well-loved outdoor music series and swirling water and wildlife for the waters of Como Lake.
Want to protect our waters?
If you would like to help keep our rivers and lakes clean, check out our storm drain stenciling page where you can reserve a stenciling kit next spring with no-contact pick-up and drop-off. And check out our volunteer page to get your hands dirty restoring native habitat.
Thank you to the City of St. Paul Public Works Department for supporting the Water Quality Education program, and the Minnesota Humanities Grant for supporting the Cultural River Stewards project.