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Focus On Old Hwy. 61: Rare Art In A Small Town

By Gail Gates

“There are little gems all around us that can hold glimmers of inspiration.”  –Richelle Mead

“You’ve heard about the frescos in Stacy, right?” said my friend Nancy Hoffman.

“Frescos? Stacy? No,” I said.  I was feeling more than a little bewildered.  When I think of a fresco painting, I think of Rome, Italy, not Stacy, MN. “Where in Stacy are they?”

“Outside of St. John’s Lutheran Church.”

Once again I felt confused.  Outside?  Frescos outside?  This is Minnesota! We nearly freeze off important body parts in the winter, and then later burn those parts in our five minutes of summer.  In other words, our environment is, um, varied.  (“Varied” is Minnesota nice for @#$%!) How could a fresco survive outdoors?  I had to check this out.

The first time I visited—I believe in late April—all I found were three large white-tarped lumps standing near the front of the church.  So maybe the winter is a factor, I thought.  I was intrigued enough to put a note on my calendar to revisit in May.  Besides, the lull gave me time to do a little research on the frescos.

I pulled up the website for St. John’s Lutheran Church, Stacy, MN,  and found the following copy:

May 16th, 2012 :

We’re only in the beginning stages of something amazing; a step into history; being made by our Church. St. John’s Lutheran Church in the small town of Stacy, Minnesota is getting stand alone Frescoes that have never been done before in North America. The Frescoes are paintings that will be done very quickly in watercolor on wet plaster, which will cause the color to penetrate the plaster and becomes fixed in the stone as it dries. This technique of painting was used in Roman times and by the great masters of the Italian Renaissance including Giotto, Masaccio, and Michelangelo. Now the small town of Stacy is getting their very own stand alone Fresco.

Intriguing.  Then I read about the artist; a nice Minnesota man named Mark Balma. A nice, famous, Minnesota man.  Here’s a link to a YouTube video featuring him on CBS’s Sunday Morning:

And here’s a link to another interesting story about his painting of JFK’s assassination.

It turns out Mark has amassed quite the body of work. Here’s a snippet from his website’s homepage:

Mark Balma is a master painter who incorporates techniques of the early Renaissance into timeless portraits, fresco murals and studio works. His studio works reflect a diversity of images, including spiritual and classical themes, social commentaries, landscapes and still lifes.

 His portraits include four U.S. Presidents, European Heads of State, Business Executives, Music and Cultural Celebrities, as well as Private Individuals.

 Two paintings in the Vatican’s permanent collection, Rome, Italy.

 His fresco murals can be found in the Museum of Spiritual Art, Assisi, Italy, the Cathedral of Saint Paul, Saint Paul, Minnesota and the University of St. Thomas Minneapolis Campus, Minnesota.



And, I might add, Stacy, MN.  A little town on Old Hwy. 61.  Crazy, right?  As of this writing, I don’t know how St. John’s Lutheran and Mark Balma came together.  I do know the frescos are beautiful works with vibrant colors.  At least they are once the winter tarps come off!

When I returned to the church a couple of weeks later, it appeared additional landscaping was underway near the frescos.  I suspect that—like most small town churches—funds trickle in and projects of love are planned accordingly.  While these are free to view, donations are always welcomed.  I highly recommend taking the short, two block, hop off of Old Hwy. 61 to see the frescos. They are exquisite.

Feeling Peckish?

Should you feel a might hungry during your visit, I can suggest a few places to eat and/or drink that are right on Old Hwy. 61 in Stacy.

The Rustic Inn sits on the north-east side of Old Hwy. 61 at the 4-way stop in Stacy.



It’s a cozy, been-there-a-long-time, establishment.  My husband and I stopped for lunch and found the waitress attentive and efficient.  She told me the two most-ordered burgers are the Bacon Ranch (mine pictured), and the Patty Melt.  My husband, being a man not to follow the crowds, ordered a California Burger.  We gobbled them down.

Diagonally across from the Rustic Inn is the Stacy Sports Grill. After having burgers for lunch, it seemed only fair to toast the frescos with a glass of beer… or Sprite. Although midday on a Tuesday, the place was busy! Televisions, pool tables, pull-tabs, and a chalkboard menu implied informality.  We wandered over and bellied up to the bar.

Maybe it was a little too busy because the woman who took our order was either distant or disinterested.  She brought us our drinks and didn’t return until we flagged her down to pay.  No smiles, no “can I get you anything else?” no engagement.  Ah well.  Anyone can have an off day.  The number of people eating there indicated good food and perhaps better service than we received.  Please comment on this if you go, or have been there.  I’m curious.



Going north, just past the Rustic Inn, is Tim’s County Cupboard.  It’s a nice little gas station with a pizza/sub shop that garners great reviews.  We were too full to eat anymore, but I’ve purchased gas there for decades and always find the staff friendly.

So there you go!  Frescos and food in the little town of Stacy, MN.  Is touring Old Hwy. 61 great or what? I’d love to hear about the gems you know about.  I’m always willing to visit, blog, and photograph.  Sharing is caring!

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