NISSWA, Minn. — A new face is in town and it’s one that probably will get some second looks in Nisswa, Minn.

New York-based artists Samantha French and Aaron Hauck, her longtime partner, recently completed a wall-sized mural near Big Axe Brewing Co. and StoneHouse Coffee & Roastery in the central Minnesota town.

“I really like to create things and make work, and just the act of painting and drying I’m really interested in,” French said in a phone interview Sunday, July 25.

French and Hauck finished painting the mural Friday, July 23, on a building her father owns, in the courtyard seating area of the brewery, working nine 12- to 14-hour days. The image is of a woman just submerged underwater, letting out bubbles of air from her mouth.

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“That is representative of the work I do in my studio practice. I usually work oil on oil on canvas for the smaller works, so it's the same sort of imagery that I do in my own practice,” French said.

Artist Samantha French paints from a scaffolding while working on her mural Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Nisswa. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Artist Samantha French paints from a scaffolding while working on her mural Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Nisswa. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

French’s current body of work explores the idea of “escape, the tranquility and nostalgia for the lazy summer days of her childhood.” The series is inspired by the 38-year-old’s own reflections and memories of her childhood summers spent in the lakes of northern Minnesota.

“We have done murals on the East Coast. ... And my dad had this building he purchased recently, and it was his 70th birthday last weekend,” she said. “He saw the wall and asked us if we’d like to do it ... and the opportunity to do one in Nisswa is one we couldn’t pass up.”

French and Hauck graduated from Brainerd High School. French’s parents, Michael and Julie, opened StoneHouse Coffee & Roastery her senior year in 2001. She said she worked at the Nisswa coffee shop during her summer breaks from Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

“It’s just always something I’ve been interested in,” French said of art. “I think it's one of those things that once you start doing it you kind of always have to be making art.”

The final touches are being completed on a mural by artist Samantha French and her partner Aaron Hauck as seen from the Big Axe Brewing Co. patio Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Nisswa. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
The final touches are being completed on a mural by artist Samantha French and her partner Aaron Hauck as seen from the Big Axe Brewing Co. patio Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Nisswa. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch


French grew up in Nisswa while Hauck grew up in Brainerd. They lived in New York City for more than a decade after graduating from high school but later relocated 80 miles north for more space and found an artistic enclave and hiking trails in the Hudson Valley.

“We usually do our murals in the fall when the weather is a little more temperate,” French said with a chuckle about the daytime highs in the Brainerd lakes area near 90 degrees.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also issued an air quality alert last week for northern, central and southeast Minnesota for most of the state, so that made working on the 11-by-25-foot mural challenging, too.

“It was very hot. It was right in direct sunlight,” French said of working on the Nisswa mural. “We actually had to put up some tarps because it was 90 degrees in full sun and then reflecting off of a bright white wall, so it was extremely warm. We weren't used to doing that.”

Time was also a factor in attempting to complete the mural before they drove Sunday back to New York. French keeps a studio in Brooklyn, N.Y., and she said working on the Nisswa mural outside — getting to interact with people on the street — was really nice.

The final touches are being completed on a mural by artist Samantha French and her partner Aaron Hauck as seen from the Big Axe Brewing Co. patio Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Nisswa. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
The final touches are being completed on a mural by artist Samantha French and her partner Aaron Hauck as seen from the Big Axe Brewing Co. patio Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Nisswa. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“We haven’t been back (to Minnesota) for a couple of years because of COVID, and so we wanted to spend more time with family and friends (but) we weren't able to see or visit with as many people. And I know that was kind of difficult,” said French, a full-time painter.

French actively exhibits her paintings and is included in many private and public collections throughout the country while her work has “garnered extensive international and national press,” according to her online biography at her website samanthafrench.com.

“Murals are so accessible to everybody — people who aren't going to be going to a gallery or a museum — and so it's just really cool to have it out there and have people experience it, you know, talking with people on the street,” French said.