Ralph Gilbert Debuts His Union Depot Mural Commission in St. Paul, MN

Congratulations to Professor of Drawing and Painting, Ralph Gilbert for his debut his mural project, the Union Depot Mural Commission in St. Paul (MN).

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Artist Ralph Gilbert stands with one of his six 16-foot-tall murals. This panel depicts the early immigrants to Minnesota: the Irish, Germans, Scandinavians and other Western Europeans. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)

Union Depot murals show railroad’s influence on Minnesota’s past

By Alex Chhith

Minnesota’s history will tower over the waiting room in St. Paul’s Union Depot, thanks to six new murals.

The 16-foot murals evoke how railroads have changed the state’s landscape and people. The artworks took 18 months to finish and represent the final pieces in the $1.25 million spent on public art for the refurbished Depot.

Atlanta artist Ralph Gilbert, 66, references the railroad’s impact on various communities — from the orphan trains that carried children west to soldiers returning from war and from the arrival of immigrants to the many African-Americans who found steady jobs on the trains.

The commission for the project was $150,000.

“These murals are evocative of a time and a place rather than illustrative,” Gilbert said.

“On the one hand, they have to tell the story that has been commissioned. And on the other hand, they have to be aesthetically challenging … for me as an artist.”

Gilbert took a year to prepare before painting the murals, researching and drawing many sketches. A handful of his drawings will be on display at the Minnesota Museum of American Art in the Pioneer-Endicott Buildings in downtown St. Paul from Nov. 6 to Dec. 7.

The most difficult part for Gilbert was “making (the murals) individually compelling but at the same time unified as a group.”

To meet this challenge, he did all the murals at the same time, making sure that when one piece was halfway done, all the others were at that same point.

“By doing this, I made sure I wasn’t a different artist by the time I finished the sixth one than I was when I started the first one,” he said.

The murals have gone up in the main waiting room in the latest installation for the Depot, which reopened in late 2012 after a $243 million renovation.

The Lowertown building’s status on the National Register of Historic Places made installation tricky. Brackets that hold the murals need to be drilled into a wall, Gilbert said. But installers could drill only in the mortar between the bricks, he said.

Alex Chhith can be reached at 651-228-5472.


More Media Coverage

The Line – Union Depot muralist honored with installation and exhibition

MPR News – New Union Depot murals show train travel through history

The Line Media – Union Depot muralist honored with installation and exhibition

Minnesota Museum of Art – Ralph Gilbert Debuts Murals

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