BADGER, Minn.-Like most stained-glass artists, Sherri Kruger started small with plaques, decorative crosses and similar pieces.

Now she's hit the big time-so to speak-with a panel that's 24 feet long and 12 feet high.

The Badger Community Heritage Wall-as Kruger's public art project is called-uses thousands of stained-glass pieces to tell the story of the town's history and culture.

Sometime next summer, Kruger's stained-glass creation will be mounted on a cement wall that will be the centerpiece of a green space in the northwest Minnesota community.

There was a groundbreaking for the wall Saturday, Sept. 16, during Badger's annual fall festival, and hundreds of people got a look at the project, a work in progress housed in a vacant Main Street building.

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"It's something I love to do," Kruger said. "It was phenomenal watching people coming in, and the main comment everybody says is, 'Oh, it's THAT big.'

"You tell them it's 24 feet by 12 feet, but until you see it, you do not realize how big that is."

Rural emphasis

Familiar buildings such as the grain elevator, the water tower, the old Arden Hotel and a local church are highlighted in the mural, along with a farmhouse, farm buildings, livestock and old tractors.

Kruger used actual photographs to trace scale patterns of the buildings featured in the mural.

"Farming is what brought people to this community, so it had to be the background of this whole piece," she said."And then we tried to pick buildings that people would recognize and were part of the building of Badger."

For Kruger, a Badger math teacher, the stained-glass project is a way to give back to a community she said has been good to her both professionally and personally. She calls her stained glass business Winding River and already has invested hundreds of hours into the project.

The actual art has been the easy part, Kruger said.

"If it was just the artwork, it was exactly what I hoped it would be," Kruger said of the time investment. "But it was all these other things I hadn't planned to do-the writing the grants and all of that-which have been rewarding, but they really consume your time."

Public focus

Kruger, who has been making stained glass for 20 years, said the idea for the public art project came from her desire to promote her work in ways other than community art shows or art-in-the-park events.

Two years ago, she received a grant from the Northwest Minnesota Arts Council to spend a week studying with Bonnie Fitzgerald, a renowned public artist in Philadelphia. Kruger then spent another week exploring Philadelphia, which is a hotbed for public art.

The instructor's take-home message, Kruger said, was to build a public art resume by starting at home.

In April 2016, Kruger met with the Badger City Council and proposed putting public art on a building. Eventually, they settled instead on the idea of the Community Heritage Wall, which will be erected in a small green space behind Border State Bank and within clear view of State Highway 11.

Two grants totaling $15,000 from the Northwest Minnesota Arts Council and donations received during Badger's all-school reunion in 2016 are funding all but the cement work, Kruger said. Fundraising efforts for the cement wall are ongoing.

About 50 people from the community, including church groups and students, have helped out with the project since May when the design and contract were accepted. Kruger started cutting glass June 15.

City leaders also have been supportive of the project, she said.

From mid-June until Labor Day, Kruger said she worked on the project from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. six days a week and has been putting in about three hours every night after school.

Besides the large panels, Badger residents past and present were invited to buy small tiles for $35 each that will form the perimeter of the wall. There's room for 176 of the tiles, which tell the stories of the families that buy them. Two music teachers, for example, have a tile with a musical note; others are as simple as the first letter of the family's last name.

All but eight of the tile spaces had been sold after the recent fall festival, Kruger said.

"It's whatever they want that makes it special for them," she said. "There'll be a key on the back side of the wall that will allow them to find their family tile because that could get a little crazy."

The precast cement wall will come from Grand Forks, and a local contractor will install the stained-glass panels, Kruger said. The hope is to have the footings poured yet this fall, she said.

When complete, the Badger Community Heritage Wall will have a roof, a 6-foot patio, a sidewalk and will be handicapped-accessible. LED lights will keep the artwork visible after dark.

The panels have to be mounted on a wall-somewhere-by the end of June, or they will lose the $15,000 grant funding, Kruger said. Her goal is to have the glasswork done by April 1.

Finishing the piece after investing so many hours working on the project could be a letdown, Kruger conceded.

"It worries me a little bit," she said. "It almost will be a little depressing, so I have to have something on the books ready to go as soon as this is done.

"It's been fun."