Mary Derusha (left) and Megan Padgett prepare the front window of the Crawford Building on 1st Street in Menominee for an upcoming art contest. EagleHerald/Mike Desotell
Mary Derusha (left) and Megan Padgett prepare the front window of the Crawford Building on 1st Street in Menominee for an upcoming art contest. EagleHerald/Mike Desotell
MENOMINEE - Driving down 1st Street in Menominee you can't help but notice all the amazing old homes. There's one in particular in the 300 block that conjures up haunting memories. It was at 314 1st St. where homeowner Lyn Derusha used to bring fright night to a whole new level back in the 1960s and early '70s.

"My mother used to dress up like a witch every year and go visit the schools and warn students about eating apples with razor blades in them or other bad things," said her daughter, Mary. "Then she would be at our house Halloween night serving candy dressed as a witch. Kids who would come to trick-or-treat would be absolutely terrified of her; yet each year they wanted to come back for more."

What would possess a fair-skinned, beautiful blonde-haired woman to dress up with soot and warts on her face? To rat her hair and put on a witch costume, complete with caldron? The answer according to her daughter is, "the love of art, of crossing the line and being creative."

"She really loved promoting arts in the Twin Cities," said Mary, who is herself a well-established artist in New Mexico, specializing in abstract and realism, mainly horses.

Lyn Derusha no longer plays the role of witch but the spirit and passion of those fun times is now back thanks to an idea from Mary. This is the first year of what is being called The Witch? Award. Through the M&M Area Community Foundation, one artist from Marinette or Menominee counties will be awarded $1,000 for first place in a portrait contest.

Although the registration period has passed, the most important phase is about to begin. The works will be judged by the public. Derusha said it's a wonderful opportunity for local people to see what their friends and neighbors are capable of doing. None of the portraits will have names on, only numbers. Artists can use any medium, pencil, charcoal, water color, paint, photography, etc.

The Crawford Building in the 800 block of 1st Street will serve as the venue for the temporary gallery. Artists will bring their works in Wednesday ahead of the opening night party from 6-9 p.m. Friday. The gallery will be open weekends starting Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. through Aug. 9. The closing night awards will be held then from 6 to 9 p.m. with the winner announced at 7 p.m.

The Crawford Building has been empty for years, many in town will remember trees painted on the front windows. Those are now gone and the view has opened up. Derusha and her protégé' Megan Padgett, 15, of Marinette, were busy last week getting the gutted-out building into shape for the exhibit.

"I'm very excited to have Megan do an internship really on how to work in a gallery," said Derusha. "She'll be taking people's votes and telling people about the award."

Padgett, a young artist in her own right, enjoys drawing and will be taking a ceramics course at Marinette High School in the fall. Her current project is a bit less glamorous but no less important than the other artists.

"Cleaning windows and painting the letters," she laughed.