Macomber creates Cresco mural honoring Borlaug
By James Grob, firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles City artist Robin Macomber hopes her recent work can help reignite interest in the legacy of Norman Borlaug.
“We’re hoping that this might spark some Google searches,” Macomber said. “Who is Norman Borlaug? He was a man that Iowans need to be proud of, and he needs to be remembered.”
Macomber said that she has found that there is a generation of young people who know little or nothing about Borlaug’s accomplishments, and she hopes that her mural might contribute to a better common understanding of him, especially here in Iowa.
“He’s a man who needs to be honored, not just for one act, but for a lifetime of work,” she said.
Macomber was commissioned to paint a large mural that honors Borlaug on a building in Cresco, in preparation for a ceremony last weekend in the community that kicked off Norman Borlaug Harvest Fest.
Borlaug is credited with saving millions of people — perhaps even billions — from starvation with his development and implementation of dwarf wheat in underdeveloped nations.
Born near Cresco in 1914, Borlaug was an agronomist who led initiatives worldwide that contributed to the extensive increases in agricultural production, termed the Green Revolution. He was awarded multiple honors for his work, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Borlaug died in 2009 at the age of 95.
Macomber was contacted a year and a half ago about a mural to honor Borlaug on the 50th anniversary of receiving his Nobel Peace Prize Award, which was last year. COVID-19 pandemic complications led to the cancellation of that, so the 50th anniversary was celebrated one year later.
Macomber has lived in Charles City since 1989 and started her business in 1996. She has painted murals across the United States, from Key West to the west coast, “and everything in between.” She estimates that 75% of her work is private work.
She has worked with Cresco and Howard County area businesses, and was commissioned to create a mural for the Wrestling Hall of Fame in Cresco. She also has worked on art located at the nature center there.
Macomber spent about 15 months on the design process, as it is a mural with a story, and community involvement and input was important. Community members listed suggestions, but gave Macomber some wiggle room for artistic license.
“They entrusted me to take that input, with some room to move,” she said. “I asked that their direction not be set in stone, so I could put some creative spin on everything.”
She presented a drawing, then realized that the old storage building she was going to paint the mural on — which was originally a livery stable — had two cupolas on it, which led to her completely scrapping her original plan and starting again from scratch.
Macomber did the actual painting of the mural over 10 days in July. It is 50 feet high by 40 feet wide and starts at the second story of the building, 14 feet off the ground. All the painting was done on a lift. The theme of the work is “Feeding the world and inspiring generations.”
Community members prepped the building for Macomber. They needed to replace part of the roof, the trim needed repainting and the outside wall needed to be power-washed, among other things.
Borlaug’s face in the mural is 6 feet tall, and the mural contains children of different nationalities, representing Borlaug’s international impact. It also contains various livestock that represent Iowa, a skyline of Cresco, the Cresco water tower, a tractor and the windmills of Howard County.
Macomber had to decide whether the tractor in the mural should be red or green. Rather than pursue financial kickbacks from various well-known farm implement manufacturers help with that decision — which may or may not have been ethical — Macomber instead flipped a coin and let fate decide. Tails was green, and the tractor is green.