Utility boxes in river towns become canvasses for artists to celebrate the St. Croix

More than a dozen drab objects have been painted to beautify communities and honor the river.




6 minute read

Starry Night over (Stillwater) the St. Croix by Jane Dierberger

The first phase of a project to turn sidewalks in the St. Croix Valley into art galleries celebrating the river has been completed, with 15 utility boxes decorated by 11 artists. Funded by the Stillwater Area Foundation’s Great Idea grant in 2018, the project was led by resident Fitzie Heimdahl.

The utility boxes are located in Marine on St. Croix and downtown Stillwater. Heimdahl hopes to expand it to other communities soon.

“The idea to transform something that is unattractive – the common, bland green or grey utility boxes – into something beautiful is not new,” Heimdahl says. “Cities across the country, from Minneapolis to Fort Collins, have completed similar projects to beautify and enliven their downtowns.”

The artwork that adorns the boxes all feature some aspect of the St. Croix River, from its beauty to its history, and the wildlife that call it home.

The utility box artwork in Stillwater is centered along Lowell Park on the city’s riverfront. In Marine on St. Croix, the works can be found in both its historic downtown and the west side of Highway 95.

“I’ve heard walkers, bicyclists, locals and visitors are enjoying the artistic gifts that they find as they explore our towns,” said Heather Rutledge, executive director of project partner ArtReach St. Croix. “Making artful places is the job of so many creatives and artists, and I’m grateful for these gifts to the community.”

Maps of the decorated utility boxes are available for each city: Stillwater, Marine on St. Croix. More information is available on the project’s website. Anyone interested in partnering on future projects can contact Fitzie Heimdahl at heimdahlf@gmail.com.

Below are photographs of the artwork and statements from the artists about their creations.

Karlyn Eckman

Greenburg Island #5 was one of about thirty paintings completed during the artists residency at Pine Needles in September 2017. This is one of a series of paintings done on location at the southern portion of Greenburg Island, just across the Pine Needles Cabin. During low flows, this site is a passageway from the west side of the island to the main channel. During high flow, much of the vegetation is submerged.

Rower #2 is a small oil painting, about 8 x 10 inches, on stretched linen. I completed about thirty paintings during my stay at Pine Needles as an artist-in-residence in September 2017. The subject is a local resident and boat builder.

Merry Domke

Foggy River Reflection
Corner of Maple St and Hwy 95, Marine on St Croix

This piece is inspired by the giant rocky bluffs in Taylors Falls. It’s not an exact replica, but the artist’s interpretation of the area. The dark purple rock and dark green pines were painted over with some iridescent paint to create the foggy look. The original is an 18″x 24″ watercolor.​

Tom Maakestad

High Water
Behind the General Store, Marine on St Croix

The original painting was part of a series of 40 river paintings done from a pontoon boat in 2016. This mural features a craft hauled way up on the bank of the river as the water steadily rose.

Mark Odegard

Ferry on the St. Croix
Burris Park, Judd St, Marine on St Croix

This piece used old sepia photos of the Marine Ferry. They are beautiful old photos that show how the villagers of Marine and Wisconsin interacted with the river. The ferry operated for 98 years over the St. Croix River.

Kathy Adamek


This piece is an expansion of a painting (40″x40″) that was done originally for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Scenic Waterways Act in 2018. It was part of a juried traveling show that began at the Stillwater Art Guild Gallery and then spent the last month at the St. Croix Scenic Riverway Park Headquarters in St. Croix Falls, WI.

Jane Dierberger

Great Blue Heron on Nest
This end of Lowell Park is tranquil and more natural, and the boxes are very visible to the river. I like the idea that they are part of the scenery, and not trying to compete.
This painting was inspired by the heron rookery just north of Stillwater. It reflects the flora and fauna found in the area. The colors are muted and subdued. The blue herons migrate to the rookery every year.

Starry Night over Stillwater
is a whimsical interpretation of Vincent Van Gogh’s famous “The Starry Night”. It features many of the historic buildings and geographic landmarks in Stillwater including the river and the bluffs. The river is illuminated and runs across the painting.

I thought this piece would look appropriate in a spot which is more urban – parking lot, restaurants, etc., and where the Commander Bldg. is visible in the background – echoing the artwork.

The piece is lively and would be a nice fit in front of the lively Freight House, which is also seen in the painting, and this utility box is almost a perfect square.

Also, an added benefit if you parked your car near it – you’d never forget where you parked!

Melody Fox

This box has a lumberjack theme because of the artist’s love of the history of Stillwater and lumberjack images from that era at the Washington County Historical Society and Minnesota Historical Society. It seems our culture of Stillwater loves river use, the history behind it, and love to bring everything of it to modern life.

Kami Mendlik

St. Croix Melody, Stillwater

This is a piece of the St. Croix River, the river I have spent my entire life studying and honoring with paint.

Tanner Palmer

Aquatic Labyrinth

This piece is composed of spray paint and acrylic paint. It is an abstract piece hinting at the complex network of running water that graces us with its presence. It pays homage to all the little streams and waterways that make up this large geographic beauty.

Kristin Prideaux

Lift Bridge

This piece was a part of my Lift Bridge series. They are less than pocket size blemishes on the finish of the steel and concrete structure of the Historic Stillwater Lift Bridge. They were captured between May and the final day of it’s public access, August 2nd, 2017. The discovery of these tiny art works hidden in plain sight is thrilling to me. These fascinating rust spots will be remembered only through photographs as the surface of the bridge has now been sandblasted and repainted in it’s transformation to a pedestrian pathway.

Paul Quie

Sense of Place

This work is abstract with elements of realism. It is meant to be a playful depiction of life along the river. There is a lot going on in this artwork, which will be seeing often given the viewer many opportunities to find playful elements of the St. Croix Valley. 


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6 responses to “Utility boxes in river towns become canvasses for artists to celebrate the St. Croix”

  1. Mark Hove Avatar
    Mark Hove

    Neat art work!

  2. Lee Lewis Avatar
    Lee Lewis

    This is wonderful. Now…how about a box in Markville, MN?

  3. Margaret A Hayden Avatar
    Margaret A Hayden

    We love these painted power boxes. It adds a lot to our walk in Stillwater. Thanks so much for having the idea and following through on implementing it!!

  4. Trish Tranquillo Avatar
    Trish Tranquillo

    What a great way to show your creativity and talents and brighten up the community. I was in Stillwater last summer and I can’t wait to come back to see the art work on the boxes on my next visit.
    I absolutely love it there.
    Trish from Pa

  5. Melinda Hoke Avatar
    Melinda Hoke

    Congratulations Fitzie and artists. Way to make a beautiful difference.

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