MITCHELL, S.D (KELO) — Every year, thousands of people from across the country and here in South Dakota travel to Mitchell to see the World’s Only Corn Palace. But what goes into making these murals of kernels?
Crews at the Corn Palace will spend the next month installing nine new murals for the “Famous South Dakotans” theme.
The installation is underway now, but the design process began two years ago by a handful of student volunteers at Dakota Wesleyan University. The 2023 theme got put on hold last year due to the extreme drought.
“We replace these outside murals every year, it’s a substantial construction project. It starts in June. And we hope to be done before the holidays before the weather gets really cold. And then those murals are up all the next year. And we repeat the process beginning about Labor Day,” said Doug Greenway, Director of the Corn Palace.
Mesa Bartmann was one of five students who participated in the Famous South Dakotans theme.
“I grew up 30 minutes from Mitchell. So I’ve known the Corn Palace my whole life. So when he (Kyle) was like, ‘Yeah, you can design the corn Palace?’ I was like, ‘Oh, absolutely.’ This is where I’m going to school,” said Mesa Bartmann, Senior.
Bartmann designed four of the nine famous South Dakotans: Billy Mills, Becky Hammon, Joe Foss and part of the Bob Barker mural.
“It’s so cool. Like whenever people are asking me about myself I can be like oh I designed the corn Palace like it’s just a fun little fact. I’m really excited for them to go up,” Bartmann said.
Templates for Oscar Howe, Laura Ingles Wilder, Charles D. Gemar and part of Bob Barker were designed by now-graduate Alice Schleich.
“I kind of grew up with a streak for illustrating drawing and that led me into my graphic design major,” said Alice Schleich, a recent graduate.
The process for the murals begins when the board at the Corn Palace chooses a theme for the year. Then the theme is given to students to create their own custom designs.
“We would print out our designs, and then trace them with the marker. And we were able to project that onto a huge wall. And we basically just had the tarps cut to size that they stapled to the corn palace, and traced out everything. And so that they could just use that and transfer it onto the wall,” Schleich said.
This partnership with the Digital Media and Design program began 7 years ago.
“It’s a great opportunity for not only the university but the students as well. It’s one of the selling points of my program is like where else can you get 400K – 500K people a year looking at your design?” said Kyle Herges, professor of Digital Media and Design.
The Corn Palace uses 12 different colors of corn to bring these murals to life. On average it takes over 250 thousand ears of corn to fill the outside murals. The corn is supplied by local farmer Brett Lowrie. He grows the corn across 80 acres of farmland.
“There’s no other place in the world that uses corn as a medium. So it’s certainly unique for a Digital Designer media student they use corn as a design medium,” Greenway said.
As the murals continue to be installed, both Bartmann and Scheich say they are proud to contribute to a long tradition of art at the Palace.
“I’m gonna be so happy to be able to say that my work is up there where so many people come through and view it all through the tourist season,” Schleich said.
The Corn Palace board meeting will take place in early November to come up with the theme for the 2025 murals.