The muse behind Wittenberg murals - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

The muse behind Wittenberg murals


WITTENBERG (WAOW) -- The town of Wittenberg has just over 1000 people, and without a major highway going through town, there's not much traffic coming through. But one woman has launched an effort to bring in more people and more business.

Back in 2005, local farm owner Lois Smith got an idea to revitalize the town through painting murals. She says she saw a similar plan put in action in Lake Placid, Florida.

"People would come from neighboring communities with maybe busloads of church groups or book clubs or families as a destination, and they made money in the town, so that's what we're hoping to do," Lois says.

Lois wanted to make sure the first mural depicted the history of the town, and what better way to do that than to feature the town's founder, Rev. E.J. Homme.

"The mural was called Foundation of Faith," Lois says. "Not only is it the foundation of the faith of Wittenberg, because it was started by a Lutheran minister, but it's the foundation of our murals. It's a gamble."

That gamble would pay off, and people helped pitch in for another mural.

The second project was a dedication to an old restaurant, Gus & Ann's. The tribute was painted on the side of Lisa's Sweet Shoppe, which is owned by Gus & Ann's daughter. As it turns out, I ran into the whole family inside.

Soon, more people joined the cause, looking to build more murals, and just as important, keep up with Lois.

"I thought if we were doing one mural a year, we were doing great," says Walls of Wittenberg, Inc. President Miriam Nelson. "And here, five years later, six years later, we have 18 murals, so I'm kind of glad I was wrong on that."

Still, the murals were not enough for Lois.

After the owners of a former drug store donated a building to the Walls of Wittenberg, Inc., Lois spearheaded an effort to convert it into an art gallery, and art park, named the WOW Space.

The gallery is now home to four art shows a year.

It would be easy to brag after all that's been accomplished in the last six years. Still, Lois keeps it in perspective.

"This has not been a panacea for all ills," Lois says. "It's just a way of maybe bringing some economic development at the same time as it's raising pride in what we are."

And after seeing the rough draft of a Walls of Wittenberg book and plans for another mural, I'd say what they are is determined.

If you want to find out more about the Walls of Wittenberg, you can go to this website.

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