South Dakota's Corn Palace is putting the finishing touches on its newest mural.

By Jessie Spangler
2018 Corn Palace mural

Each year, the Corn Palace in Mitchell-a popular stop for Interstate-90 travelers between Sioux Falls and the Black Hills-gets a new look as artisans decorate the exterior with elaborate murals of naturally colored corn, native grasses and grains. The theme for the newest mural, almost completed, is Salute to the Military.

The Corn Palace's current mural, a Salute to the Military, nears completion and will sport a new name when finished. Photo courtesy of Emily Hennagir

What goes on behind the scenes:

The Corn Palace Entertainment committee-a group consisting of Corn Palace staff and Mitchell community volunteers-selects the theme.

• The newest mural theme was chosen because of the recent commission of the USS South Dakota, a Virginia-class nuclear submarine, according to Emily Hennagir, marketing coordinator for the Mitchell Convention and Visitors Bureau.

• Artist Cherie Ramsdell has been designing the Corn Palace's murals for years. She is an art teacher at Bridgewater-Emery School District and the Hanson School District.

• The borders of grains and grasses are typically redone in June or July, while the corn decoration is stripped in September and new murals completed by early November.

• Twelve hues of naturally colored corn are used for the murals, including shades of red, brown, black, white, orange, calico, yellow and green. They're grown in separate plots so plants don't cross-pollinate and dilute any of the other colors.

• Some 325,000 ears of corn are used. Each ear is cut in half length-wise, so they have a flat back to be nailed to the building. About 1.5 million nails are used in the decorating process; each ear of corn has 4 to 5 nails holding it up, and yes-each nail must be removed before starting the redecoration process each year.

• Money for the annual redecoration (about $175,000) is raised through building rentals for basketball games, corporate and private events and ticket sales from concerts and other events, according to Hennagir.

Past mural themes have included South Dakota Weather (2017), Salute to Rodeo (2006), South Dakota Artists (1990) and Space Age (1969).

The first Corn Palace was constructed in 1892 as a place for area residents to come together and hold a fall festival, typically in late August, to celebrate the harvest. The third and current building was finished in 1921. While there's still a Corn Palace Festival each August, the building also hosts events such as indoor bull riding and concerts. The palace is open year-round and is free to visit. About 500,000 visitors stop by each year.

South Dakota Weather, the 2017-18 mural design.
The Corn Palace in 1902.
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