The Legacy of the Lakes Museum’s call for artists willing to turn wooden canoe paddles into works of art has drawn dozens of submissions — and the public can vote for their favorites through Monday, Aug. 17.

“I definitely think the isolation in March and April helped,” said Kaci Johnson, the museum’s communications and programs coordinator. “People were looking for something to do. And sometimes people just look for a creative outlet.”

Artists from Minnesota and beyond submitted 35 paddles. Some were inspired by local landscapes or waterscapes, including one artist who used white paint, Sharpie and some twigs and mushrooms to create a birch tree. Another artist carved his paddle into a skull and spine with the title, “‘Pad’dle to the Bone.” The Runestone Museum entered a three-dimensional paddle that includes a Viking boat made from stained popsicle sticks.

Big Ole by Runestone Museum
Big Ole by Runestone Museum

“We’ve got a variety of different styles and images represented,” Johnson said. “There’s something for everyone, really.”

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The paddle art exhibit accompanies the museum’s main exhibit, “Paddling Through the Past: Dugout and Birch Bark Canoes.”

It features a dugout canoe on loan from the Dodge County Historical Society that dates back at least 200 years, she said, along with tools that would have been used to make a dugout and a section on underwater archaeology, since the dugout was found in a riverbank. There’s also a century-old Ojibwe birchbark canoe and a 1912 BN Morris canoe.

“It’s really just to show the earliest forms of boatbuilding in Minnesota and the world,” Johnson said. “It kind of shows the evolution of canoe making but also how the design and shape stayed the same.”

The museum bought the paddles from the outdoor retailer Cabela’s and supplied them to the artists.

Artist Marilyn Mammel of Alexandria said painting several little yellow houses on her paddle proved challenging because the whole paddle was varnished.

“I thought, ‘I’m not sure paint will stick on that,’ so I sanded it down to get it a little rougher so it would accept the paint.”

She’s always admired the little yellow houses on Lake L’Homme Dieu, she said, and painted them from a photo while she was out of town this spring.

The exhibit will remain on display through November, and some of the paddles will be auctioned off as a fundraiser for the museum. Voters can cast ballots online, at, or in person. There are two categories, one for youth and one for adults.

Mammel said she was impressed at the variety of paddles on display.

“One of the ones that impressed me the most was a young 14-year-old boy who did some wood carvings into the paddle,” she said, referring to a paddle by Keegan Anderson of a river and a moose.

The exhibit, held in the museum’s front gallery, is free to view. However, there is a fee of $5 to $10 to enter the rest of the museum, a showcase to classic boats and Alexandria area lakes life. Children under age 5 can enter for free.

Low Wake by Matthew Gustafson
Low Wake by Matthew Gustafson

“People should definitely come check them out,” Johnson said. “Not only the exhibit but the paddles too. They’re definitely something to see.”

If you go

WHAT: “Paddling Through the Past: Dugout and Birch Bark Canoes” and public judging of the Pledge-A-Paddle Community Art Contest

WHERE: Legacy of the Lakes Museum, 205 3rd Ave. W., Alexandria

WHEN: Judging is through Monday, Aug. 17. The exhibit is open through November.

INFO: Entrance to the contest and canoe exhibit is free, although fees apply to the rest of the museum.