Meet the Woman Behind Ashland’s Colorful Downtown

Sue Martinsen started out as a volunteer painter helping with the first mural in 1988.

ASHLAND, Wis.- Over the course of 20 years Ashland, has transformed into an outdoor art gallery and the year 2018 has been named the year of women, let us paint the picture of the woman, keeping history colorful for many years to come.

“If I’m painting people I want to capture their personalities, if I’m painting buildings I want to reflect what that building meant to the community,” artist Sue Martinsen said.

Sue Martinsen started out as a volunteer painter helping with the first mural in 1988.

“I had never done a mural before,”┬áMartinsen said.

After the project was done, Sue noticed how the piece drew people in.

“They would jump out take a picture and they say now lets go elsewhere another community, and that kind of annoyed me,” Martinsen said.

Her drive to make an economic impact through art took flight and spread around every corner.

“And so now when I do see tourists in town with the brochures and taking the photographs that feels very satisfying,” Martinsen said.

All of the 23 murals represent local people in history. Each piece is crafted by Sue but the visions come from submissions community members send to the local newspaper.

“The most important thing for me is to represent the piece as accurately as I can,”┬áMartinsen said.

The most recent piece is the Women’s Mural, highlighting local women from different backgrounds, woven together through the color and life they’ve added to Ashland, just like the powerful background.

“The quilt, bits and pieces of a person’s life, something that’s been used or torn or maybe something else that somebody won’t be able to make a life out of but these women would take bits and pieces and make something productive out of it,”┬áMartinsen said.

Each woman being honored was nominated by someone in the community and thanks to well-kept secrets some of the women chose were taken by surprise.

“Sometimes she has to do three different shades on top of each other until she gets the exact right color blue to look like a sky,” Maribeth Monroe said.

“Now they will also stop me and say have you see that big blank wall,” Sue said.

“Sue is so precise and yet she is so laid back,” Monroe said.

Now the city hosts Mural Tours, for a full look of the art door gallery.

“She has placed us on the map worldwide,” Monroe said.

And Ashland is now named the Mural capital of Wisconsin.

“I never dreamed it in a million years,” Sue said.

For more information on the mural tour, visit the Ashland Mural Walk.


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