Decorative art was built into the architecture of Minnesota’s two newest college hockey venues.
Other open areas inside The Sanford Center in Bemidji and Amsoil Arena in Duluth were left blank and open for an artist’s touch.
That task went to Buffalo, Minn.-based artist Karl Jaeger, who brought together the long history of two Western Collegiate Hockey Association programs in murals and canvas work.
“I tell people I make square pegs and put them in round holes all the time,” Jaeger said. “People always ask, ‘Is this possible? Is that possible?’ and my answer is always yes. I say that anything is possible, and we can make it work.”
Inside the hockey facilities at The Sanford Center, the 54-year tradition of the Bemidji State hockey program is displayed in vinyl wallpaper graphics and in smaller canvas artwork pieces. From first captain Ed Johnson to former coach R.H. “Bob” Peters and Vancouver Olympian Zuzana Tomcikova, the story of Beaver hockey through the years is woven in hundreds of images.
Jaeger’s touch is also on display at Amsoil Arena, where a signature 100-foot wall depicts the 66-year history of the Bulldogs’ hockey program. All of the UMD hockey icons are there: Keith ‘Huffer’ Christensen, former head coach Mike Sertich and the Bulldog national championship women’s teams.
“Along with UMD, these are the first two arenas that I’ve done,” Jaeger said. “I initially came to UMD with the idea of putting wall graphics up, and that was before I had even done it yet. I just knew I had the capability with our printers. They (two projects) are about equal in size and these are the largest projects I’ve ever worked on.”
Jaeger works together with his father, Frank, and his brother, Chad, at ASI Fine Art in Buffalo. The company specializes in printing services for individual artists and photographers.
Jaeger’s arena projects are part of a career he started as a colored pencil artist and developed as a professional after college did not go as planned.
“I went to school for art at Moorhead State and didn’t fit in there with what they taught, and they didn’t really care for what I did,” Jaeger said. “After three years of going to school there I decided it really wasn’t worth my money, and that’s basically when I started on my own. It took off from there.”
Jaeger’s artistic break came in 1996 from the help of family friend and professional golfer Tom Lehman.
“Before he took off and made it big on the PGA Tour, I did a drawing of him, was able to go to print with it and market it,” Jaeger said. “That was right when he won the British Open and that really opened up a lot of doors for me.”
Jaeger went on to produce colored pencil drawings, photography and digital graphic works of Minnesota’s sports landscape.
His art projects include TCF Bank Stadium, the Metrodome, Met Stadium, Target Field, Xcel Energy Center, old and new Mariucci Arenas and Williams Arena.
Jaeger has produced artwork of prominent teams in the state including the 2003 St. John’s national football champions, the 2002-03 back-to-back University of Minnesota national college hockey championship teams and the 2002 Minnesota Twins A.L. Central championship team.
Jaeger was commissioned by the PGA of America to produce drawings of the last three United States Ryder Cup Teams. He expects his relationship with the PGA to grow a result of his work at The Sanford Center.
“The PGA has seen what I’ve done here in Bemidji, and they’ve asked if I could do something for their headquarters,” Jaeger said.
Jaeger’s involvement in creating artwork for The S#anford Center started with a phone call pitch to Bemidji State assistant hockey coach Bert Gilling last September.
The project evolved from there to 12 wall murals and approximately 150 pieces of canvas artwork in the BSU hockey wing of The Sanford Center.
With photographs compiled from BSU archives and photocopies of old newspaper clippings, Jaeger’s vision filled nearly 90 feet of previously blank space in the L-shaped hallway separating the two locker rooms from the rink.
The process started with digital photographs of the empty wall space and Jaeger used those images as the canvas in the computer photo-editing program Photoshop.
The main office lobby features the top moments and players in the program’s history. Areas around the locker rooms feature the 2009 Bemidji State Frozen Four team, the 13 small-college national championships, international players and players who went on to play in the NHL.
Smaller canvas prints hang on the walls and give the historical showcase a three-dimensional effect. Those prints display team photos for every team in the history of the men’s and women’s programs. There are individual prints recognizing the school’s All-Americans.
“Karl’s unbelievable,” Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said. “The reason why this hockey wing looks so good is because of what he’s done from a design standpoint – not only the murals but the canvas prints – it’s so unique from what we’ve seen before. We usually just see framed prints. In his craft I can’t see many people doing the job any better than he is right now. It’s really exciting to see what the end result is.”
The large banners inside the arena honoring BSU’s retired numbers and Olympic athletes were produced by Jaeger. The newest addition, a 34-foot wide banner proclaiming The Sanford Center as the “Proud Home of Beaver Hockey,” was added in time for a January series against St. Cloud State.
Jaeger said most of his work inside The Sanford Center is finished and has no major arena projects planned in the near future. But he’s hoping to find work when St. Cloud State remodels the National Hockey Center and the University of Nebraska-Omaha builds its new arena.
Until his next large-scale project, Jaeger said business at ASI Fine Art is growing and he expects to hire new employees.
“We’ve been printing on canvas for a number of years and that’s basically how I got started doing this,” Jaeger said. “I’ve been an artist for over 14 years now, and we starting doing canvas printing for other artists. That expanded into doing creations like this, which expanded into doing wall graphics – it’s all tied together.”