FARGO — Like so many others, North Dakota was the last of the lower 48 states visited by Victor Ving and Lisa Beggs. Unlike so many others, the two didn’t wait as long to come back.
The artists set up camp in Fargo to paint one of their signature postcard murals on the west side of the Dakotah Pioneer Center, on the corner of First Avenue North and Roberts Street.
The couple aims to paint a mural in the style of a vintage “Greetings from…” postcard in each of the 50 states and are halfway to their goal, though some states have more than one. The murals incorporate local imagery in each of the city’s letters.
They have spent most of the last five years crisscrossing the country in a camper creating murals and documenting what they call the Greetings Tour. This will be their first mural in the Upper Midwest.
Ving and Beggs will start working on the wall on Monday, June 21, and finish on Sunday, June 27, when a celebration will be held. That block of Roberts Street will be closed, with food vendors A Crêpe Place and Michele's Table set up, Front Street Taproom pouring beverages and music by Jessica Vines. Elected officials have been invited to speak, but most importantly, the community is invited out to see the finished work.
“Part of the goals of these murals is to make it a destination,” Ving says from his motorhome just outside of Minneapolis earlier this week.
“It’s another reason for people to come downtown, to come to Roberts Street,” says Austin Voss, vice chair of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, which arranged for the mural.
The process was initiated by then-DNA member Tommy Schmidt, who has since moved out of downtown. He spotted Ving and Beggs' work on the Greetings Tour Instagram account. On a whim, he messaged them to see if they would be interested in creating a mural in Fargo. They were intrigued so local organizers set out to find the right site, which proved more difficult than expected.
“It was hard to find an adequate wall that didn’t already have art on it,” Schmidt says.
They kept coming back to the wall on the west end of Orange Records, not only because it was big enough, but also for its location off Broadway.
“It seemed like a perfect canvas for a mural,” he says. “We’re extending the reach of public art in downtown, taking it off the existing main corridor, Broadway. This will be a catalyst for more public art coming downtown.”
The project was funded through the first grant the Greetings Tour awarded to organizations providing a positive impact for the local community.
It’s not the only postcard-inspired mural in downtown. In 2017, Fargo artist Steve Knutson created a Bison mural stating “Greetings from Fargo” on the side of a train car permanently parked on the corner of Main Avenue and Broadway.
Once the wall was selected, the next question was, what will the painting show?
Ving says whenever he told people he’d be painting a mural in Fargo, they asked if it would include scenes from the movie “Fargo.” He says no.
“We try to work with the local community on what best represents their hometown,” the artist says. He says the design process was fairly easy and approved after two or three detailed sketches.
“We really wanted to focus on the images of downtown Fargo,” Schmidt says, adding that the mural will feature the Fargo Theatre, the Red River, some green and yellow for North Dakota State University and a wintry scene.
Ving often reserves a space for a local artist to design and paint. Organizers here selected Anna Johnson to create the A.
Johnson, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, will incorporate Ojibwe floral designs as well as hummingbird and rabbit imagery, the latter being a delicacy back home as well as a common site in Fargo.
“There are rabbits everywhere here. It’s like rabbit city,” she says.
Johnson considers herself “blessed to be involved” in the project, in part because she’d wanted to create a mural in that exact location. She’s previously designed four utility boxes and one bench in downtown.
Ving is excited to see her work and always appreciates the local touches.
“A lot of times that turns out to be our favorite image,” he says.
Ving estimates that the mural will require about 40 cans of spray paint to create. He says he was looking for a space no longer than 30 feet wide and 15 feet tall.
“We try not to make them too big. So people can still interact on the ground level,” he says.
After the painting is done and the artists have moved on, they encourage people to take pictures in front of the mural and tag the artists and the Greeting Tour. Ving and Beggs have even started their own virtual Wall of Fame, posting pictures of people who travel to visit each mural.
The paintings have become backgrounds for family photos, wedding pictures and birth announcements.
“I like the random animals. I’ve seen pets, pigs, goats,” he says. “I’m waiting to see a moose in front of our painting in Anchorage, Alaska.”