Whoever coined the phrase ‘bigger is better’ has clearly never been exposed to E.J. Klepinger’s Artist on Main Street project, Shop Chalk. Throughout Two Harbors, Klepinger has been partnering with local businesses to create micromurals on storefronts. Consisting of urban wildlife and natural scenery, these murals create a sense of quirky unpredictability throughout the town.
Living on the north shore some 15 miles south of Two Harbors, Klepinger is an artist and teacher who is intimately familiar with the area. Although locally known for rock art where he uses a shamanic technique to see forms within stones and bring them to life, his practice extends from the teaching he does in Duluth and Willmar, MN, as well as his work across the ocean - as a book illustrator for European author Liane Carter. In his own art he celebrates the natural world and the animals that are a part of it, though he says the specific medium isn’t important and instead should be chosen to celebrate the subject.
Through this holistic approach he created small-scale interventions in everyday life by partnering with businesses to place micro-murals on downtown buildings. Considering the caveat that most business owners don’t own the buildings they occupy, the decision was made to create temporary murals out of watercolor and pastel chalks. The murals thus far have incorporated wildlife and natural landscapes into the built environment in natural looking ways. This method has allowed the murals to become surprising interventions that a passersby might not notice, creating a fun and unpredictable atmosphere with the businesses involved. Klepinger did one micro-mural a month through December 2021.
Despite the temporary nature of the murals, shop owners are already asking for the pieces to be permanent and expanded upon! This has been a pleasant surprise for Klepinger who was worried how the art would be received and potentially vandalized. Instead, the businesses are excited about expanding artistic offerings, forming new collaborative relationships, and the town at large is buzzing about all the art. Residents are posting the pieces on social media, inadvertently raising awareness for the businesses, and increasing foot traffic downtown.
Beyond his project, Klepinger credits all the Artist on Main Street projects with bringing a new awareness and energy surrounding the arts to the community. He shares that the collaborative energy has been infectious, especially as new relationships are formed between artists, business owners, and the city. In his mind, using art as a creative tapestry to bring new life into the built environment fosters a sense of pride in place that transfers to the community at large.