A mural waiting to be seen

This mural was recently uncovered during the remodeling project at Meinders Community Library in Pipestone. According to the signature, it was painted by Al Ronning between 1955 and 1958. Photo by Kyle Kuphal

An unexpected treasure was found recently during the ongoing remodeling project at Meinders Community Library in Pipestone. Library Director Jody Wacker said electricians removed a section of drywall and found what appeared to be part of a mural.

“At that point, it was just a very tiny section and we had no idea how big it was,” Wacker said. “It took us almost a full week before we uncovered the whole thing.”

What they’d found turned out to be a roughly 14-foot by 6-foot painting of Winnewissa Falls, Old Stone Face and the rock ledge at Pipestone National Monument. According to the artist’s signature in the bottom right corner, it was painted by Al Ronning between 1955 and 1958.

“It’s so beautiful,” Wacker said. “When you see it from the perspective of coming in the front and then looking at it, it is just really stunning.”

According to the book, “The History of Pipestone Area Schools,” published in 2016, Allen Ronning taught junior and senior high art in Pipestone from 1948 until his retirement in 1979. He was born in 1921 in White, SD.. and served as a Navy fighter pilot in the South Pacific during World War II. According to an obituary that ran in the Argus Leader, he died Feb. 16, 1993.

Pipestone National Monument Superintendent Lauren Blacik said historical notes indicate that Ronning might have worked as a ranger at the monument at some point, and that the monument has three copies of a painting by Ronning in its museum collection.

When the mural at what is now Meinders Community Library was painted, the building would likely have been the Walz & Geise Home for Funerals, according to the “Pipestone County History Book,” published in 1984.

Allen Ronning was the painter of a mural that was recently uncovered at Meinders Community Library in Pipestone. Ronning taught junior and senior high art in Pipestone from
1948 to 1979.
Source: The History of Pipestone
Area Schools

There are marks and holes on the mural where two-by-four studs were nailed over it at some point to support a wall. Now that it’s been uncovered, Wacker said the mural will be restored and displayed. While some libraries seek grants to have murals painted, she said, Meinders Community Library was fortunate enough to find one that was already there and that features a scene unique to the community.

“It’s part of our community and it’s part of the fabric of who we are,” Wacker said.

Since finding the mural, Wacker and Children’s Librarian Emily Blaeser have been trying to learn more about it. She said people remember the funeral home and Ronning, but no one seems to remember the mural, not even Ronning’s daughter, who lives in Sioux Falls.

“Nobody who we’ve come across has any recollection of it,” Wacker said.

The best clue to why it was painted at the funeral home has come from Cindy Pederson, the Pipestone National Monument park store manager.

“The librarians were befuddled as to why anyone would have a mural painted in a funeral home,” Pederson said. “It strikes many people as odd or strange, but not to me. When I saw it, I knew why, like immediately.”

Pederson knew Ardes Walz, the wife of Willis Walz, one-time owner of the funeral home, because she was the school nurse when Pederson was in grade school. Pederson said she would sometimes pretend she had a stomach ache just so she could go see Ardes and visit with her because she was so kind.

“She would always let me sit on her lap and she always cuddled with me and talked softly to me, and it just made me feel better,” Pederson said. “It just made me feel loved.”

Pederson said Ardis Walz loved Native American History and people, and the Pipestone National Monument. She believes that love is why the Walz family had the mural painted.

Pederson also had Ronning as an art teacher.

“He was one of the coolest teachers,” she said. “All the kids loved him.”

Wacker said there are many stories intertwined in the mural, including that of Ronning, that of the Walz family, and those for whom the land portrayed in the mural is sacred.

“It is their sacred ground and it’s a picture that they didn’t draw or paint, but that is representative of their culture and I think that it’s really important that their stories are told in conjunction with this,” Wacker said.

At some point, she’d like to collect stories related to the mural and the land represented in it to share with others. If anyone has any information they’d like to share about the mural, they can contact the library at 507-825-6714.
The general public will have to wait to see the mural because that part of the library is currently closed for remodeling. Wacker said she thinks that area might be open sometime in March.