Many people have strong ties to their hometown. It may prompt them to stay for life, volunteer, or even run for city council.
Adam Sageng has translated his love for Mankato into posts on the Mankato Memories Facebook page, on his own page titled Deep Valley: Mankato Art, History & Events, and through contributions to the community by Time and Treasures.
“I was born in 1981 and grew up in a beautiful area right next to Sibley Park,” is how his life story began. “It was perfect for play as there are several dead ends…as well as the railroad tracks, the river and lots of forest to build forts or climb trees.”
He lived for a few years at 505 W. Second St., one of the oldest houses in Mankato, across from the old Lewis Athletic Field. The properties were used as barracks for returning veterans after World War II and are now on the grounds of Habitat for Humanity homes.
At the beginning of the pandemic, he began researching families on Familysearch.com — the free version of Ancestry.com operated by the Mormon Church — and discovered why he felt drawn to certain things.
This connection has helped advance some of his projects. And to sustain a personal renaissance.
“I’ve struggled with alcoholism and all the harm that comes from it for over 15 years,” he said. “And thanks in large part to these projects and my photography art, I’ll be four years sober this June.”
His photographic art takes a number of forms. An example of this can be seen at the top of his personal Facebook page in an old black and white photograph of his great-grandfather Harry Earle on his 1912 Excelsior Henderson motorcycle. He colored it, breathed new life into the image and, probably more importantly, got a glimpse of what the scene really looked like.
“I’ve always been interested in time travel, so my next project was a blast. I would find old photos of downtown locations, take the exact position of the original camera, take a recent photo, and then edit them in a split screen to give a then/now effect,” he said.
“I feel like it takes what was a photograph in an abstract place and time and grounds it in our reality. It might just be that spark of curiosity someone is looking for.”
He said his photography really took off two years ago when he took his mother’s old 35mm camera to California and shot a long exposure on Highway 101 early in the morning. Eventually he found his fully mechanical 1981 Canon AE-1, which forced him to learn manual mode… and started another trend.
“I really like taking night shots and plan to do some creative light painting photos this year.” He often posts early morning long exposures from downtown Mankato, capturing mood and color and a deep historical feel.
Anyone who visits the Main and Riverfront railway depot may have already seen another of his projects. A few years ago, he noticed the large green dumpster that distracted from the classic “Mankato” sign and architectural style of the historic depot.
And then the family history kicked in again.
“I learned that my great-grandfather, Harry Earle, worked as a baggage handler and was there to send the troops into the World War I CityArt program,” he said.
He reached out to his classmate Dain Fisher of property manager Fisher Group Realty. There he pitched the idea and got approval for a vintage-looking dumpster. Then he went to Waste Management, the company that had provided the container. The company has now become LJP Waste Solutions.
“I visited the lady in the main office and presented this idea personally. Luckily, she was so intrigued that she emailed me on companies (offices). This process took about a month to get approved and then I was ready to find an artist.”
Working on site, he contacted Mankato Makerspace and was referred to Kendrick Daum, known for his artwork Look at This Project. The offer was $1,000. He started a fundraiser through his Deep Valley Facebook page and had what he needed within hours.
“It was easy for me to see this talent in Adam and I happily offered him funding for the project about two minutes after he posted the request,” said Justin Ek, local artist and one of the owners of Bellisimo Paint & Coatings. “It made it easier to know that I would also help out my friend and Makerspace co-founder, Kendrick.”
As someone working to improve the cultural aspects of the Old Town district, Ek may have found a kindred spirit too.
“Seeing an individual citizen take an initiative to improve our city center is absolute medicine. We need creative people (like Adam) with passion and respect for history who bring modern creative energy to our community,” said Ek. “Adam really demonstrated those qualities.”
Another place where Sageng demonstrates these qualities is at the Blue Earth County Library. While a fundraiser to buy a full license for scanning software has stalled, he’s hoping to eventually get it so he can keep scanning, converting it to a searchable format, and uploading PDF copies of The Free Press’s early years for people to see can access.
Library director Kelly McBride gave him some copies of newspapers celebrating the city’s centenary and other important events. To encourage people to read these articles, Sageng made them part of a table.
“Adam made the library a really great table,” McBride said. “He put old Freie Presse articles on the table and we got tons of questions and compliments about the table.”
Sageng recently completed three more tables with remaining items.
Conversation with Sageng brings a flood of other memories and connections to his hometown: his Uncle John, who worked at Sibley Park Zoo as the keeper of the talking bird, which many remember calling out “Hello, Bob”; his other uncle, Billy Ray, best known as an “ad runner” for The Free Press in the 1950s and 1960s; and his great-grandmother Anna, who worked at the Saulpaugh Hotel and then as an egg candlestick at Madsen’s Valu Center.
The story of his family is the story of the city, which weaves together into a fabric that is both comforting and inspiring to him.
“I want to find as many ways as possible to transmit that joy, pride, and curiosity to as many people as possible, while also having fun and being an eccentric artist,” he summarizes why he does what he does does.
“What really wakes me up – every morning at 4:15 – is that I always have a list of hobbies and projects to choose from for the day. And there is always something new to learn.”