Mural, Mural on the Wall

artist beautifies doomed Chippewa Falls building

Sammy Gibbons, photos by Andrea Paulseth

JUST PUT YOUR LIPS TOGETHER AND BLOW. Artist Alexandra Moehagen posed alongside her mural at the “Ice House” in Chippewa Falls.
JUST PUT YOUR LIPS TOGETHER AND BLOW. Artist Alexandra Moehagen posed alongside her mural at the “Ice House” in Chippewa Falls.

Despite the warmth of these summer months, a house of ice was brought back to life in Chippewa Falls. Artist Alexandra Moehagen decided to conceal the spray-painted profanities on the walls of what is referred to by locals as the “Ice House.” The skeleton of a building – located in a corner of Irvine Park near Glen Loch Dam – has not been used for more than vandals’ canvas since it was wrecked by a tornado in 1958. It was once a frozen food locker and rests on the site of a former ice harvesting plot, which gave the area its name. Now, the shambles are covered with weeds, grass, and Moehagen’s 20-by-55-foot mural. Here’s the kicker of it all: The building is slated to be demolished in a year to make way for a new park that will include a handicap-accessible fishing pier.

“I have always loved that building,” said Moehagen, a Chippewa Falls native. “I thought, ‘If I’m going to try something I’ve never done before, I want to do it on a building that I really care about, and one that is effectively going to be erased if I happened to screw up.’ “

Moehagen noticed the unappealing graffiti and believed that the building deserved better make-up than poorly written cuss words. The artist accepted the challenge and began to come up with an eye-catching design that, she joked, would somehow be as unlikely as possible to offend anyone. The proposal for the mural, Moehagen’s first large-scale piece, was instantly approved by Dick Hebert, director of the Chippewa Falls Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department. Following the go-ahead from Hebert, she began sketching designs in May and started painting on the grand canvas at the beginning of June. The piece, which was created using a combination of regular exterior paint and spray paint, was completed on July 10. It covers the front north-facing side of the building and wraps around to the right along the building’s east side.

“I wanted to come up with something that looked the way that area made me feel,” Moehagen said about her design, which features a goddess blowing dainty flowers into an imaginary breeze. “Very inspired, peaceful, and earthy. It stands out against the darkness of the brick.”

Moehagen used the website Go Fund Me to raise $800 to pay for supplies and transportation to complete the project. This was successful and resulted in no out-of-pocket costs for her. However, Moehagen said that raising the money and getting approval were the easiest parts of the journey. The brick canvas proved to be difficult and absorbed the paint differently in various spots, giving the piece multiple textures. The weather, particularly the rainy days of June, as well as the armies of mosquitoes in the area also kept Moehagen on her toes.

Alexandra Moehagen
Alexandra Moehagen

The artist said despite the hours she spent creating the mural she won’t be upset when the painting is gone. Instead, she’ll be sad when the building, which served as a magical play area throughout her life, is torn down.

“It doesn’t bother me as much as people think it should,” Moehagen said of the mural’s impending demise. “Tons of people wonder why I’m doing it because it’s going to be torn down, but that’s not now, that’s a year from now. In the meantime it is going to be seen by anybody that goes up there.”

Moehagen hopes that her mural continues to inspired beauty in the Chippewa Falls community after it is demolished. “Art doesn’t need to be in a museum,” Moehagen said. “It’s important to have open, accessible public spaces of art. I’m hoping people see my mural and go ‘Hey, I like to paint, I can make something’ and also want to add to the public art.”

The mural can be seen by traveling to the end of Ashley Lane off of Jefferson Avenue in the northeast corner of Irvine Park. A video of the mural-making process can be viewed at www.gofundme.com/g2eyoc.