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Bookish beauty wows TH Public Library visitors

Above the hearth in the Two Harbors Public Library a woman has taken up residence, presiding regally over the Carnegie section of the building and its visitors. With flowers in her hair and surrounded by woods, water, flora and fauna, she represents the North Shore’s natural beauty. Her art nouveau style is reminiscent of the period during which the original library was built.

Almost life-size, the woman is depicted in a multi-media mural, the work of artists Tonja Sell and Nancy Miller. The piece is a recent addition to the historic building, made possible through state grant funding.

“I applied for a Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage (Legacy Fund) grant in 2012, in the hope of bringing some new artwork to the library,” said Two Harbors Library director Michele Monson. Upon learning that the funds had been granted, she said the money was split into parts and designated for two art pieces.

“(T)he first part went to Lisa Kosmo for her wonderful mural in our entryway. For the second part, we created a committee of members of the Board of Trustees, Monson said. “We put out a general call for proposals, focusing on artists that live in or nearby Minnesota. We felt that it would be the best use of Legacy funds to keep the hiring local.” Enter Sell, from northwestern Wisconsin and Miller of the Iron Range.

“We received about 35 entries and immediately were drawn to Tonja and Nancy’s style of artwork and their proposal: a mixed media mural for above the fireplace,” Monson said that the artists’ vision included elements that made it a perfect fit for the library.

“We liked the art nouveau style that they were proposing. It was most popular between 1890-1910, which was when Two Harbors began to create the library…the Carnegie Building was built in 1909. We felt that the modern touches of the mural blended well with the historic aspects,” she said. Throughout the work are familiar Two Harbors landmarks. Materials for the mosaic are native to the area, too.

“I love the little historic touches in it - the lighthouse, the ore docks, the train. She is wearing a brooch of the Edna G, she is reading a book about dogsledding,” Monson said, and “the agates and driftwood in the mosaic panels were collected here in Two Harbors.

Artists Miller and Sell, who had never worked together before deciding to collaborate on this project, spent months developing ideas and working on their individual contributions. Despite the challenges of working from separate locations, Miller said that the pair’s creative processes meshed well and they were pleased with the end result.

“I enjoyed working with (Sell) and learning about her technique. It was just very enjoyable for me,” said Miller. “We’re both very proud to be able to add this to our resumes.”

Visitors to the Two Harbors Library have enthusiastically praised the project, too.

“I was in the library this evening and happened to end up on the second floor. As I was leaving I looked at the art that was installed over the fireplace and stopped dead in my tracks,” said Jan O’Donnell, “It is breath-taking. I want to go back and just stare at it.” Monson said she is also pleased with the outcome.

“I think it looks wonderful,” she said.

Since the installation, both artists have turned their attention to new projects. Miller is currently seeking funding for the second annual Street Art Festival at the Lyric Center for the Arts in Virginia, and Sell was out of town and could not be reached by press time. The pair don’t currently have plans for collaboration, but this project demonstrates that two artists can merge their unique ideas, styles and personalities with stunning results.

“I cannot paint like Tonya; I know my limitations, said Miller, who enjoys working in a variety of other media, “she’s fantastic, so why should I try to cover every base? If someone can do something better, why not ask them to work together and create something beautiful?”