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The 10-year-old “Return to Splendor” mural near Coney’s and Swirls will undergo art restora­tions overseen by The Hillsdale Her­itage Asso­ci­ation.
Col­legian | Madeline Welsh

The 10-year-old “Return to Splendor” mural near Coney’s and Swirls will undergo art restora­tions overseen by The Hillsdale Her­itage Association.

Laura Smith, a res­ident of Hillsdale for the past 20 years, co-founded the Ladies of Beau­ti­fi­cation League with fellow Hillsdale mothers Jaminda Springer and Allison Hutchinson. The LBL’s goal is to bring the com­munity together with projects to encourage eco­nomic devel­opment and cel­e­brate the rich history of Hillsdale.

“Return to Splendor” was the first mural com­pleted by the LBL. Through their Hillsdale Com­munity Mural Project,  they also spear­headed the mural at Field of Dreams and the railroad mural on the Board of Realtors’ building.

“We loved the name because it was our first project to help Hillsdale return to the splendor that it was: a his­toric, beau­tiful town,” Smith said. 

Smith said that projects like this tend to have a ripple effect in the community. 

“Public art helps to ignite eco­nomic devel­opment. You want to help restring all the pearls together in town, so after the mural went up it was exciting to see a lot of the buildings and facades get restored downtown,” Smith said. “There’s been a whole renais­sance down in that area over the past decade.”

Murals like “Return to Splendor” have a longevity of about 50 years, Smith said, which is why the mural needs its first round of ren­o­va­tions. Smith said murals painted on brick tend to accu­mulate water behind the brick and require restoration about every 10 years.

While the original artist of “Return to Splendor” Mary Thiefels was unable to perform the restora­tions, artist Wes Hardin will restore the mural while he is in Hillsdale painting another mural, Smith said. 

Connie Sexton, Hillsdale res­ident since 2006, belongs to 10 orga­ni­za­tions in Hillsdale and is a co-founder of THA. She was a member of LBL until it dis­banded 5 years ago, though Smith said the LBL fund is cur­rently pro­viding dona­tions to cover the cost of ren­o­va­tions and future projects.

Sexton said that while funding, cre­ating, and restoring murals is a large focus of THA, the overall goal of the orga­ni­zation is much larger.

By exploring Hills­dale’s past, THA hopes to educate and pre­serve Hills­dale’s her­itage for the present and future gen­er­a­tions to enjoy with beau­tiful visual reminders,” she said.

In addition to the murals, THA has also com­mis­sioned sculp­tures that cel­e­brate Hillsdale history. “In 2017 we brought to Hillsdale County the Winona bronze statue [at Mrs. Stock’s Park] and in 2019 the Mama Bear and her cubs bronze statues [located on the Baw beese walking trail]” Sexton said. “Heather Tritchka was the sculptor of both.”

THA has plans for the future of Hillsdale, according to Sexton. 

We are raising funds now to bring a 10′ x 64′ mural to Jonesville which will be a pic­turesque mural of the history of the Old Sauk Trail,” Sexton said. “If fundraising goes well, the ear­liest we plan to unveil that mural is in late fall of 2022, but if not, then hope­fully Spring of 2023.”