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Ron Benson

Duluth artist Ron Benson has created a series of four sculpted glass murals for the exterior of the Whole Foods Co-op. Each mural is a depiction of big waves on Lake Superior.

“I chose the lake as subject matter because it is something the public overwhelmingly responds favorably to. When you ask people who live around here what they like about the area, they almost always point to the lake. There is something about this immense body of water that is universally appealing. It may be one of the few things we all have in common. We all love the lake.”

The murals are constructed out of recycled materials. Over 150 windows were melted down to create the series.

The Whole Foods Coop

“Most recycling plants don’t accept window glass. It ends up buried in landfills. I divert glass from the waste stream and turn it into sculptures, tiles, back-splashes, and privacy windows for homes businesses and schools.”

Rather than pay landfill fees, you can donate old windows to the artist. When the Common Ground reuse center closed, Benson recycled their windows. Recently, he pulled 350 windows from the old Two Harbors high school before it was torn down. He also salvaged handrails from the school which became frame-work for the WFC wall sculptures.

“The design for the WFC project was based on an oil painting I’d been working on. The challenge of translating that painting into the 3rd dimension was really intense. When you look at moving water, you are presented with ever-changing sets of infinite detail. I tried to capture and sculpt fluid shapes that convey the feeling of movement and light that is so unique to water.”

“The medium of glass is particularly well suited to depicting water. I have never seen anyone manipulate glass in the way I’d conceived so I had to create my own techniques and trust my imagination to make it happen.”

The complicated and technically challenging wall sculptures took 8 months to complete. The murals are characterized by their highly sculpted and richly detailed surfaces. Benson spent 2 months hand-carving the intricate imagery of moving water to create ceramic molds into which the recycled glass was melted. The molds impart a bas-relief image into the glass. Fine detail can be seen on every square inch of these large panels. The front surface of the glass was colored with lead-free cloisonne’ enamels and textured with hand-cut heat-sculpted elements. The undulating surface texture creates a lens-like effect that gives movement to the image.

“My goal is to create eco-friendly art that is fresh, positive, and enhances the quality of the space for the people who inhabit it. Whether it’s a huge mural on a commercial building or a few tiles in someone’s kitchen, it is nice to give a second life to materials that would have otherwise been buried.”

The artwork remains untitled. “I plan on sponsoring a Name the Sculpture Contest with a piece of my art as grand prize.”

Click here to watch a video on the creation of The Great Lake