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Sale of student paintings will help local families in need

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MORRIS – Beginning next week, patrons at Willie’s SuperValu in Morris will see paintings prominently displayed among the produce, canned goods and frozen foods the store regularly carries.

The paintings are part of a service learning project coordinated by Michael Eble, associate professor of studio art at the University of Minnesota, Morris, for students in his painting class.

During his time at UMM, Eble has partnered with groups like the Morris Public Library, Someplace Safe and the Salvation Army to teach students how public art can help improve the community.
After a successful project at the Morris Wetland Management District in the spring, Eble said he was looking for a way to work on a project that would help connect students and food. Community Engagement Coordinator Argie Manolis suggested partnering with the Morris Area Schools Backpack Program, a project organized by student organizations to provide food to families in need.

“The goal of these projects is both to raise students’ awareness of social issues in our community and to encourage students to use their artistic talents to address these issues,” said Manolis.

At the beginning of the semester, the students took a tour of Willie’s to see the store and get some inspiration for their paintings. Eble encouraged them to choose foods they had some nostalgia or foods that would be a good painting.

Each of the pieces – which include everything from piles of green peppers to JiffyPop Popcorn to a packet of ramen noodles – will be framed and displayed on easels or hanging on the shelves next to the foods they were inspired by with information about the project.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing the work within this very visually clustered, dynamic area of Willie's,” said Eble. “I also like the surprise aspect when people are walking around.”

Eble said he was excited to work with the staff at Willie’s because displaying the paintings at the store will help them be seen by more members of the community than displaying the work at a gallery.

“A good percentage of people shop at Willie’s – it’s the only full-service grocery store in Morris,” said Eble. “If I could exhibit them there, the artwork would get in front of the majority of people in Morris.

“I like the timing of it because it’s before Thanksgiving when a lot of people are grocery shopping,” Eble continued. “It’s a real good time to be exhibiting work that relates to food but also relates to giving.”

Eble plans to begin hanging the paintings around Willie’s next Tuesday in time for Willie’s annual holiday open house on Nov. 14 from 3 to 6 p.m. Student artists will be available during the open house to talk about how they chose their subjects and the techniques they used for the paintings.

Proceeds from the paintings, which will be on sale for $50 each, will be donated to the Morris Area Backpack Program.