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John Lamb, Published October 08 2010

Rosenquist’s North Dakota mural comes home

The homecoming was postponed, but the show went on.

Grand Forks native James Rosenquist wasn’t on hand at the Plains Art Museum on Thursday morning for the unveiling of his $1.2 million “The North Dakota Mural,” but the work spoke for itself.

The crowd of about 350 people clapped when curtains were pulled aside, revealing a 13-by-24-foot painting of iconic images of the state, like a meadowlark, tee-pee poles and shafts of wheat against a starry sky.

The 76-year-old painter planned to attend but was told not to travel by his doctor after contracting a combination of pneumonia and influenza. The acclaimed pop artist splits his time between New York City and Aripeka, Fla.

Rosenquist and the Plains rescheduled a reception for 7 p.m. Oct. 20, but the party started without him.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker read a proclamation declaring Thursday “James Rosenquist Day.”

Describing how the first version of this mural burned in a fire that destroyed Rosenquist’s Florida studio and home, and how an anonymous donor stepped up with $600,000 for the oil painting (the artist matched the remainder), Plains Art Director/CEO Colleen Sheehy referred to the installation of the mural as a “miracle” five times in her introduction.

After the painting was unveiled, the North Dakota State University Gold Star Marching Band launched into “On Bison.” Guests were invited to stay for a free lunch of sloppy joes.

“He would’ve liked this,” Star Wallowing Bull said of Rosenquist. “He’s a people person. He loves to talk to people.”

The elder painter has offered instruction and guidance to Wallowing Bull for the past five years and the two have become friends.

John Bennett grew up in Minneapolis with Rosenquist, the artist acting like an older brother. Bennett, the former president of the Plains board of directors, said the mural was always on Rosenquist’s mind.

“There is a lot of meaning to every one of his paintings,” he said, adding that the artist will talk about the work at the Oct. 20 reception.

The Peace Garden State imagery in the painting didn’t need much interpretation for some viewers.

“I thought it is an accurate representation of North Dakota,” said Shannan Gorden, a West Fargo High School senior. “I loved how he filled the sky above with stars because that’s usually what you see in North Dakota.”

Her art teacher Eric Syvertson and Kim Bromley, an NDSU art teacher, both said the painting is a great opportunity for young artists to explore. “Having a piece like this in town for students to see is nothing but great for them,” Bromley said. “A major artist. A major piece of work. This is excellent to have this here.”

Syvertson added that the mural “puts (Fargo-Moorhead) on the art map.”

Denise Homme, a former Fargoan visiting from San Diego, agreed.

The contemporary art collector gushed with superlatives like “inspirational,” “perfect,” “fabulous” and “spectacular” to describe the painting. She was already looking forward to telling friends about it back in San Diego. “People that don’t understand pop art will get this,” Homme said, looking at the imagery. “Wind turbines connect us to the future and wheat is what this state is all about.

“It seems like it’s been here forever. That’s the nice thing about art – sometimes it finds its way back home.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533