Jennifer Webb has a passion for western Duluth. She has spent the past couple years studying the community identities of western neighborhoods and is currently preparing to share some of her findings via a two-hour webinar titled “The Making of Duluth Neighborhood Identities.”
Webb will focus on neighborhoods from Fond du Lac to West End/Lincoln Park and how the communities and physical spaces of the landscape helped create specific identities.
“The neighborhood identities we have here are quite unusual,” Webb said. “It’s something that contributes to community pride in a very tangible way.”
Webb is the department head and associate professor of art history at the University of Minnesota Duluth. She developed an interest in the 21 architectural portraits of local industries that hang on the walls of the Kom-on-Inn bar in West Duluth. The paintings were created in the early 1950s by Art Fleming. She will use photos of the paintings in her webinar to examine how “descriptive language can allow us to ask questions about history.”
When customers enter the front door of the Kom-On-Inn in West Duluth, the first mural to great them is of the former steel plant. (2000 file / News Tribune)
The paintings also inspired Webb to begin asking her own questions. She started a research project where she interviewed locals about the history of the neighborhoods. She also plans to write a book that weaves the stories and descriptions of neighborhoods; the murals and panels; and deeper research.
“These paintings invite us to look beyond the surface and to really tell the stories of our places. By considering the art, architecture and places of our communities, we can talk together about neighborhood disadvantage, exclusionary practices and inequality,” Webb said.
Webb will leave time for conversation in the webinar so that attendees can share their stories with her.
“I always like to have an opportunity for people to share things with me that they feel need to be included in the complex and rich fabric of our histories,” Webb said.
The signature of Arthur Fleming, dated 1951, is seen on a painting of the National Iron Co., one of several on the walls of the Kom-On-Inn in West Duluth. (2000 file / News Tribune)
The webinar will be presented via the videoconferencing app Zoom from 3-5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 3. It’s in partnership with the Duluth Preservation Alliance and Rethos: Places Reimagined.
Rethos, a nonprofit based in the Twin Cities, offers classes in historic preservation and building restoration. The Duluth Preservation Alliance is a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization that advocates for the preservation of Duluth’s historic architecture.
The webinar costs $10, with a pay-what-you-can option available, and requires registration online at rethos.org/events.