A road reconstruction project in downtown Mineral Point made a trip to the shopping district a hassle until a local artist stepped in to create a treasure hunt.
Keith Huie has painted nearly 100 different slabs of concrete he pulled from street project rubble in the Iowa County city.
His creativity didn’t end there. He took photos, posted on social media and hid the rocks around for people to find.
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Bright and colorful, they soon became a glimmer of hope, something of a community-wide scavenger hunt amid a months-long construction project that has blocked much of the downtown since it began in March. Streets and sidewalks are getting replaced, and however necessary the project was, Huie said, it caused some inconveniences for business owners. He worried it would hurt tourism and deter locals from visiting.
His artwork has become the talk of the town, and that, in part, was the point.
“It was just an idea that I had to pull people downtown, to share my art and to hopefully brighten up people’s days in what has been a big construction mess,” he said.
Huie said he wanted people to find something cool to take home and experience at a time when it’s became more difficult for locals and tourists to enjoy art downtown, especially with dust flying around.
Community members say his artwork stands out against the dirt and dust of the construction site. Some concrete pieces are neon and depict outer space and rocket ships, some with cars, others have faces, flowers, hearts and arrows.
Huie looks for pieces on the street with a smooth surface and leaves the rest as exposed concrete. Then he uses graffiti cans and spray paint. Finally, he adds a touch with Sharpie oil pens or paint pens with oil paint.
“The reward on the faces of the kids who are just thrilled, the adults who are walking by showing me what they have…it was well worth all the effort,” Huie said.
He described High Street as the art district of Mineral Point, one that is heavily dependent on tourists. Any interruption can cause stress for artists, he said, and his artwork “is just a reminder that we’re here, and thank you for coming down.”
Cory Graber-Bennett, director of Mineral Point’s Chamber of Commerce, called Huie “one of a kind.”
Graber-Bennett said businesses have struggled throughout the construction project. She said Huie’s work created an exciting reason for families to head downtown again. She recently spotted one of his rocks by the Mineral Point Opera House.
“You could be having the worst day,” she said, “and he’s going to make you laugh. He’s going to put a smile on your face. His art, finding it, it brings people together. It’s like the talk of the town.”
Graber-Bennett said the art represents a piece of history locals and tourists will remember.
“Our downtown is never going to be torn up the way it is,” she said. “I feel like I have a little piece of history because of the tear up of High Street.”
And it wasn’t just children that were out searching for clues on where to find the next piece of art.
“Everybody has a little bit of that inner child,” she continued. “I had just as much fun as my 14-year-old trying to find these things.”
Kathy Moen, Wisconsin’s lead clerk at the Mineral Point post office, said she has gifted other people the artwork. So far, she’s collected at least 10 pieces, spotting one by a door’s entryway or a windowsill.
She called the art “priceless.” One of her favorite pieces is painted pink and blue in the shape of a house and emblazoned with a heart.
Moen said many of the sidewalks were cracked and needed an upgrade, but the construction is nearing the finish line.
“It’s like, we can all get through this. And I think they’ve done a great job,” Moen continued. “It’s going to be wonderful.”
The crew is set to finish ahead of schedule by Labor Day, but Huie plans on creating free art for the community through the end of summer, if not longer.
Now, when construction workers see him coming, they set rocks aside for him to paint. And others have joined him in painting on the sidewalk.
“It’s really cool. It’s turned into something much bigger than I thought it was,” Huie said.
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