Feud over fish blots out Mankato mural

It was all smiles a couple of weeks ago in Mankato when a mural on a flood wall was unveiled featuring images of fishes painted by five artists over a month of work. It was to depict what the river would’ve looked like in pre-settlement times.

But the lead artist suggested the community didn’t like the part where a section on fish collided with a landscape.

“We’ll have all the artists work on all the sections, so it will look like one artist did the whole thing,” the lead artist said when starting work in July.

It didn’t.


So the lead artist blotted out the work of her collaborators, KEYC reported.

It was supposed to be a group project by local artists, the TV station reported, but the other artists were told to stop working on the mural so lead artist Julie Johnson-Fahrforth could make what they thought would be minor changes on the mural.

“I left for vacation thinking Julie was making her small changes. She said she wanted to change the clouds, she wanted to change the reflection,” artist Michael Cimino said.


“I just wasn’t satisfied,” she said of the section. “The aesthetics weren’t there and the community wasn’t on board with it either,” Johnson-Fahrforth tells the Mankato Free Press, defending her right to paint over the work of the other artists in the collaboration.

“She said we could all work together on it, and I assumed that was to the very end,” artist Ann Judkins tells the paper.

  • Jack

    Another group project gone awry.

  • John

    Looks like the lead artist fired up the blowtorch and started in on her bridges with the community/other artists. Yikes.

  • John O.

    “It’s my way or the waterway.”

  • Rob

    A fish feud! Gotta love it. Yet another example of how getting artists to work together is like herding cats. Or in this case, catfish.

  • Gary F

    I’m not completely certain, but the fish on left don’t really look like fish in the river by Mankato? I would have thought bullheads, catfish, rock bass, small mouth bass, and sunfish. Those look like saltwater fish.

    • Rob

      Details, details.

      • BJ

        pre settlement times?.

  • Mike Worcester

    Unfortunately incidents like this serve as fodder for the general perception that artists are temperamental, peevish, and difficult to work with. I like the line of one of the scorned artists: “The worst case would be if the controversy surrounding it led to fewer opportunities for public art in the future,” True that.

    (My spidey sense wants me to wonder if there are personality issues involved in this situation also.)

  • rev2000

    Typical jar headed Scandanavian Minnesotan response …gotta bitch about something. Any public works artist who makes camp in Minnesota deserves a medal for courage above and beyond–or a competency hearing.

    • John

      I don’t know. . . sending all the other artists away so she could make alterations, and then painting over large swaths of the project.

      That sounds pretty passive-aggressive Minnesotan to me.

      • rev2000

        True . . . good point.

  • MarkUp

    In college one of the early courses I took in theater-craft involved everyone making a different model of the set as they envisioned it. We all turned them in on the same day and the professor lead us out into the parking lot. He put them all in a pile, doused them with lighter fluid, and burned them in front of us. The lesson, he explained, was don’t get overly attached to your artistic vision of the project. You’re collaborating with a dozen or more artists with a dozen or more competing visions; Artist Directors are the leaders on that vision and get the final say in any artistic contributions, no matter how much you liked what you did or how hard you worked on it.

    As leader on the mural, Johnson-Fahrforth has every right to make whatever changes she deems necessary. Everyone is behaving respectfully and that speaks highly of the maturity of the artists involved, but I can sympathize with the other artists. I wasn’t happy watching my model burn that day either.

    Another lesson to take away: Be wary of any “democratic process” that involves a designated leader.