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Mysteries of mermaid revealed at art show

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Statuesque and secretive, she sat silently as her life was recounted to an eager crowd.

The mysteries of the Rainy Lake mermaid were revealed last Thursday night during an art show in her honour at the Fort Frances Museum, where, among other things, listeners learned she wasn’t as old as previously thought.

“When we first considered the show, we looked at newspaper articles and found that the mermaid was completed in 1932, making this her 70th anniversary,” show co-organizer Mark Kowalchuk said.

But Kurt Lysne, whose distant cousin, Gordon Schlichting, created the sculpture, said the mermaid actually was completed in 1935.

“Being a discrete woman, she was not saying anything about her age,” Kowalchuk joked. “She’s looking pretty good for 70 even though she’s only 67.”

More than 30 people attended the opening of the “Mermaid Imagery” art show at the museum. Hosted by “Rainy Lake Impressions,” the event is to be the first of annual art shows highlighting a different aspect of Rainy Lake.

“I’m very happy at the recognition of Rainy Lake beyond the tradition of hunting and fishing,” said Lysne, whose family has owned a cabin on an island on the lake since before 1905.

The Minneapolis native recounted the tale of how a young architectural student at the University of Minnesota suggested creating the sculpture instead of doing chores at his uncle’s cabin all summer.

“[Gordon] decided to do something better than hauling wood and water,” Lysne joked. “[His uncle] Henry liked buxom women so the idea stuck.”

The mermaid was made out of steel rods, old boat propellers, and cement, and Schlichting had it completed in three months.

Schlichting, who went on to be a renowned architect but has since passed away, returned many times over the years to his mermaid.

“I’m gratified it is still here,” Lysne said. “The fact that there has been no vandalism and harm to her is a credit to our area.”

And what began as a summer project decades ago has inspired well over 20 pieces of artwork housed at the show. Everything from ethereal watercolour depictions of the mermaid to a papier-mâché rendition are on display as part of the show.

A steel sculpture made out of a rusted old boat also sits in tribute as part of the show that will remain at the museum until the end of the month.

“I think it’s fascinating. I had not seen the mermaid and it is making me want to go out and see her,” said Nancy Flook as she wandered past the works.

“I’m quite impressed,” added Bill Gushulak, who said events such as this are just what is needed to get more tourists to stop in Fort Frances instead of driving right through.

Ruth Caldwell asked her sister to create a painting for the show and was challenged herself to write a poem for the event.

“I’m a closet poet,” she admitted before reading her “Ode to a Mermaid,” which is carefully written on her sister’s painting.

The crowd applauded enthusiastically when she finished.

“This regal siren does not sing/reclining on her Rainy Lake home/No matter what the weather may bring/she’s always there, she does not roam.”

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