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Artists reinvent ruins of old paper mill in Vicksburg

Artists reinvent ruins of old paper mill in Vicksburg. (WWMT/Cyrus Raymond)

The old paper mill in Vicksburg is attracting international attention with artists from around the world apply to use the 420,000 -square-foot space into a canvas.

Director of Prairie Ronde Artist Residency, John Kern got the inspiration to start the program after driving past the industrial ruins that have become an all too familiar sight in Michigan.

The Lee Paper Company paper mill that was once the heart of Vicksburg and closed in 2001 is now home to the unique program that recruits artists to reinvent the ruins through their own visions and experiences.

“How can we get people to start coming to the mill and how can we reintegrate the mill back into Vicksburg? Because it’s just been sitting here for a long time,” Kern said. Those questions planted the seed that’s grown into the residency program that started in early 2018.

Selected by a panel a three judges, a textile artist from the Republic of Georgia is the latest to take up residency in Vicksburg. Looking for the sixth and final artist to finish out the program’s first year, Prairie Ronde Artist Residency has received applications from New York to Germany.

“We knew that we wanted to drive people into the space, we love it, but I didn't realize that other people would be so swept up by it,” said Kern,

From music composers to sculptors, artists accepted into the program move to Vicksburg for four to seven weeks and immerse themselves into the century-old space in search of inspiration.

Strips of peeling paint, floor grates and saddles that once held pipes are among the relics from the old mill some artists integrated into their pieces, which is not a requirement of the residency.

The 50 ft. mural painted inside the old mill includes the smoke stack and water tower that once stood above the property.

The residency and the art created is not all about the mill’s history, artists also integrated themselves into the community.

Local consignment shops and famers’ market vendors have helps collaborate with artists in their work and search for supplies.

Kern said, “Each of these people has something to share with the community and the community has something very important share with those artists.”

Small shows and workshops at the old mill breathe new life into the building, bringing the community back to the place that was one the backbone of Vicksburg.

“There’s some sort of gravity here that’s moving people to this space,” Kern said.

Closed in 2001, the old paper mill is in the early stages of being redeveloped into multiuse facility. Kern, who is also the director of community outreach for Paper City Development, says early plans include a brewery, event space, hotel rooms and residences.

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