History and art: Mankato native uses love of Mankato as inspiration to create and give back | lifestyles

Many people have strong connections to their hometowns. It may prompt them to stay for a lifetime, do some volunteer work or even run for city council.

Adam Sageng has turned his love of Mankato into contributions to the Mankato Memories Facebook page, his own page called “Deep Valley: Mankato Art, History & Events,” and through contributions of time and treasure to the community.

“I was born in 1981 and raised right next to Sibley Park in a wonderful neighborhood,” is how he began his life story. “It was perfect for playing since there are several dead-end roads … as well as the railroad tracks, the river and plenty of woods to build forts or climb trees.”

He lived at 505 W. Second St., one of the oldest houses in Mankato, for a couple of years, and across from the old Lewis Athletic Field. The lots were used for barracks for returning veterans after World War II and now is the site of Habitat for Humanity homes.

At the front end of the pandemic, he started doing family research on Familysearch.com — the free version of Ancestry.com operated by the Mormon Church — and discovered why he is drawn to certain things.

This connection has helped fuel some of his projects. And to maintain a personal renaissance.

“I struggled with alcoholism and all the harm that comes from it for 15-plus years,” he said. “And thanks in large part to these projects and my photographic art, I’ll be four years on this June.”

His photographic art takes a few forms. An example of one can be seen at the top of his personal Facebook page of him in an old black-and-white photograph of his great-grandpa Harry Earle on his 1912 Excelsior Henderson motorcycle. He colorized it, bringing new life to the image and, probably more importantly to him, giving a peek into what the scene really looked like.

“I’ve always been into time travel, so my next project was a blast. I would find old photos of downtown locations, get in the exact position of the original camera, take a current photo, then edit them into a split screen for a then/now effect,” he said.

“I feel like it takes what was a photo in an abstract place and time, and grounds it in our reality. It could be just the curiosity spark someone is looking for.”

He said his photography really picked up two years ago when he took his mom’s old 35 mm camera to California and captured an early morning long exposure shot on Highway 101. Eventually, he found his 1981 Canon AE-1, fully mechanical, that forced him to learn to use the manual mode … and sparked another trend.

“I really enjoy taking night photography and plan to get some creative light painting photos this year.” He often posts long exposure early morning shots from around downtown Mankato, capturing mood and color as well as a deep historic feel.

Anyone who visits the train depot at Main and Riverfront may have seen another project of his. Several years ago, he said, he noticed the large green Dumpster that he distracted from the classic “Mankato” sign and architectural style of the historic depot.

And then family history stepped in again.

“I learned that my great grandpa Harry Earle worked as a baggage handler and was there to send the troops off to World War I. I decided I would try to do something along the lines of the electrical boxes that are customized around the area by the CityArt program,” he said.

I have reached out to classmate Dain Fisher from property manager Fisher Group Realty. He pitched the idea there and got the approval for a vintage-looking garbage container. Then he went to Waste Management, the company that provided the container. The company has since become LJP Waste Solutions.

“I visited the lady at the main office and pitched this idea in person. Luckily, she was intrigued enough to email corporate (offices) for me. That process took about a month to get approved, and then I was ready to find an artist.”

Acting locally, he contacted Mankato Makerspace and was referred to Kendrick Daum, who is known for his “Look at This Project” artwork. The quote was $1,000. Through his “Deep Valley” Facebook page, he started a fundraiser and within hours had what he needed.

“It was easy for me to recognize this talent in Adam and I happily offered him funding for the project roughly two minutes after he posted the ask,” said Justin Ek, local artist and one of the Bellisimo Paint & Coatings owners. “It made it easier knowing I would also be helping my friend and Makerspace co-founder, Kendrick.”

As someone who is working to enhance the cultural aspects of the Old Town neighborhood, Ek also may have found a kindred spirit.

“To see an individual citizen take an initiative to enhance our City Center is absolute medicine. We need creative placemaking people (like Adam) with a passion and respect for history that bring modern creative energy to our community,” Ek said. “Adam has really demonstrated those qualities.”

Another place Sageng is demonstrating those qualities is the Blue Earth County Library. While a fundraiser to purchase a full license for scanning software has stalled, he hopes to get it eventually so he can continue scanning, converting to a searchable format and uploading PDF copies of the first few years of The Free Press for people to access.

Library Director Kelly McBride gave him some copies of newspapers celebrating the city’s centennial and other important events. To encourage people to read those articles, Sageng made them part of a table.

“Adam made the library a really great table,” McBride said of it. “He lacquered old Free Press articles on the table, and we’ve received tons of questions and compliments about the table.”

Sageng recently completed three more tables using remaining articles.

Talking with Sageng brings a flood of other memories and connections to his hometown: His Uncle John, who worked at the Sibley Park Zoo as a handler of the talking bird many remember calling “Hello, Bob”; his other uncle of him, Billy Ray, known for being an “ad runner” for The Free Press in the 1950s and ’60s; and his great-grandma Anna, who worked at the Saulpaugh Hotel and then as an egg candler at Madsen’s Valu Center.

His family’s history is the town’s history, weaving together into a fabric that’s both comforting and inspiring for him.

“I like to find as many ways as possible to spread that same joy, pride and curiosity to as many people as possible, all while having fun and being an eccentric artist,” he said in summing up why he does what he does.

“The thing that really gets me up — at 4:15 every morning — is that I always have a list of hobbies and projects I can choose from for the day. And there’s always something new to learn.”


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