Perhaps it's fitting that painter Kevin W. Kluever lives in a former schoolhouse. "I'm completely self-taught," he says. "It took a lot of practice, and the learning part of painting came from copying painters and paintings that I liked."
Kluever (pronounced "cleaver") counts Regionalist Grant Wood, Tonalist George Inness and Impressionists Camille Pissarro and Alfred Sisley among his influences. "I would try to figure out not so much how they did things but why they did things as far as colors and texture and placement and balance," Kluever says. "My own style came out of combining those influences and my ability."
The 1893 converted schoolhouse that Kluever lives in with his family -- and in which he has his studio -- is nestled in the Minnetrista countryside. Having grown up on an Iowa dairy farm, Kluever finds the rural Midwestern landscape inspiring. "It's in my blood," he says. "The color draws me, the plays of light and shadow -- and I love the sky, the way it looks late in the day."
"Autumn Landscape" by Kevin Kluever. (image courtesy the artist)
In 2003, Kluever began showing his original artwork, winning awards for excellence at the Hopkins Center for the Arts and in Maple Grove. But a turning point in his career came in 2007, when Thom Flug, the director of Mound's Threshold Arts Center, asked Kluever to paint a mural for him. Kluever's workload snowballed from there; murals in Excelsior and Long Lake followed. "And Maple Plain has been quite fruitful for me," Kluever says.
Maple Plain, a town of 2,000 people, is situated on a curvy rise of Highway 12 where the marshy western edge of Hennepin County begins its gentle cross-dissolve into the rolling hills of central Minnesota. "It has one foot in the rural and one foot in the suburban," says Melanie DeLuca. "People who live in Maple Plain love that."
DeLuca is director of community education for the Orono School District (of which Maple Plain is part) and a member of the Maple Plain Design Team, which exists to beautify the community. The team pursued a Metropolitan Regional Arts Council public-art grant program called Creative Intersections. "We put a call out to artists to submit a mini-grant proposal for public art that would enhance the city of Maple Plain," DeLuca recalls. "That's how we first met Kevin."
Kluever's first project was a mural on a side wall of the Maple Plain City Hall. Later projects followed in subsequent rounds, including a gymnasium mural, a double-sided "welcome" sign along Highway 12, a wraparound mural on a pumphouse in the city's Northside Park, and murals on the park's baseball dugouts.
Mural by Kevin Kluever on the Maple Plain City Hall. (image courtesy the artist).
When he has a commission for a mural, Kluever begins by taking a photo of the space to be painted, then creates a small-scale prototype. He counts rows of bricks or uses features such as windows to determine placement. When his prototype is approved, Kluever gets his paint at the local hardware store. "It's house paint," he says. "Just latex exterior paint. I simply match my colors with the swatches, and obviously there's some mixing involved as I'm doing the project."
Pumphouse in Maple Plain's Northside Park, with mural by Kluever.
"His work has really captured the feelings and the emotion that the community wanted to capture," DeLuca says. "With public art, I think you need a much different sensitivity than someone who does their art and then you either like it or you don't. Kevin really was a good listener. He understood the feel and the atmosphere and the look that would be portrayed through the public art and then was able to capture that. It's a special kind of artist who can really adapt his or her work to this very particular kind of setting."
Chad Edworthy has lived in Maple Plain for 20 years and is the bartender at McGarry's Pub on Main Street. He's also president of the men's softball league and coach of the town baseball team. Asked about Kluever's work, Edworthy replies with admiration. "It's very good -- I think the pumphouse portrays what the ballpark is meant to be," he says. "And the city hall one shows the old-town feeling, and that makes people feel comfortable."
Kluever's objective in creating public art is similar. "What I like most is when people look at what I've done and smile and basically say, 'That's someplace I want to be, I'm drawn to that'," he says. "I am, too, so that's what I'm trying to get out of it."
This welcome sign along Highway 12 in Maple Plain features Kluever's depiction of the town's Main Street.