A glimpse of ‘St. Michael, USA’

Historical Society celebrates anniversary with painting

Acclaimed artist Ken Zylla, of Corcoran, poses with the completed “St. Michael, USA” painting that was commissioned to recognized the St. Michael Historical Society’s 10-year anniversary.
Acclaimed artist Ken Zylla, of Corcoran, poses with the completed “St. Michael, USA” painting that was commissioned to recognized the St. Michael Historical Society’s 10-year anniversary.

By Will Hoverman
Sun Newspapers Intern

Ken Zylla, a prolific and accomplished painter and resident of Corcoran, has finished a project for the city of St. Michael that may hit pretty close to home.

Zylla has depicted a vintage downtown St. Michael in his commissioned print “St. Michael, USA.” More specifically, this is a portrayal of Central Avenue between First Street and Main Street as it appeared in 1960. He expects this print to appear in an annual calendar series called “America Remembered” in 2017.

St. Michael Historical Society President Sheldon Barthel (left) and St. Michael Historical Society member Bob Zahler (right) at an unveiling ceremony at St. Michael City Hall July 13. (Sun Newspapers photo by Will Hoverman) Prints are available for sale by contacting Sheldon Barthel at 763-497-4205 or via email at srbarthel@charter.net. People can chose to purchase prints framed or unframed with a few options for matting and frame colors.
St. Michael Historical Society President Sheldon Barthel (left) and St. Michael Historical Society member Bob Zahler (right) at an unveiling ceremony at St. Michael City Hall July 13. (Sun Newspapers photo by Will Hoverman) Prints are available for sale by contacting Sheldon Barthel at 763-497-4205 or via email at [email protected] People can chose to purchase prints framed or unframed with a few options for matting and frame colors.

A self-taught painter, Zylla started developing his craft as a teenager in Foley, Minn. His first works, which now sell for a much higher amount, sold for roughly $5 to $10 at the time. Since then, he has amassed more than 800 more original creations that are cherished by fine art collectors around the world.

Before committing to his art full time, he was stationed in Germany in the 1950’s for the United States Army. After that, he started investing more time and energy into painting and eventually grew his artistic brand. He eventually owned and managed three separate art galleries in the Twin Cities. Since 2001, he has been under contract with the publishing company of Brown and Bigelow, who produce the “America Remembered” calendar series.

The vibrant painting includes automobiles of that era with colors that pop, vintage signs, and the downtown area re-imagined. Zylla’s medium of choice is acrylic paint.

His works radiate with nostalgia. This particular print alludes to an event that actually happened in St. Michael many years ago.

The backstory involves a Fourth of July prank by five teenage boys that went very wrong decades ago. Filling an empty casing keg from the meat market with silver salute firecrackers and placing it on the street, the boys lit a paper fuse, assuming the explosives would go off individually.

Instead, all of the firecrackers exploded simultaneously, which was comparable, some said, to two sticks of dynamite.

Some artistic license was taken, of course, but the store windows depicted in the painting were blown out by the impact of the blast. The print shows the town scene before the explosion.

One of the board members of the St. Michael Historical Society, teacher Bob Zahler, explained that this painting is emblematic of America during this time in history — “Ken reminds us of a way of life typical of communities throughout this great nation.”

In 2005, a group of passionate and engaged citizens launched the St. Michael Historical Society. Ten years later and the organization continues their perpetual effort to preserve history, genealogy and the integrity of the city.

Contact Will Hoverman at [email protected]