Dozens of students from a Metro Deaf School were welcomed to practice after they painted their way into the organization last week as they helped paint pieces of art that will soon hang in Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
EAGAN, Minn. — There were wide smiles and excited squeals as soon as they turned the corner and saw the artwork above them.
Students from the Metro Deaf School in Minneapolis visited Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center on Saturday and saw portraits of themselves up on the wall in the form of colorful and eye-catching paintings.
Students and staff from the school were depicted in the art as they used American Sign Language to communicate 'SKOL Vikings,' the catchy fight song fans know from hundreds of home games.
"To see all the different paintings, it's so cool," Damarious Jones, an 8-year-old student at the school, excitedly signed. "Everything is really just awesome. All the kids, they love the Vikings."
The project features 17 paintings in all. Students from the school posed for pictures as they signed the major parts of the song, and Stefon Diggs joined the youth for a photo.
Minneapolis-based artist Leslie Barlow then painted the outline of each photo and added a light purple background, but left the majority of the painting available for Metro Deaf students to fill it in using a paint-by-numbers system, which they did in May.
The final product was unveiled Saturday, and it was an emotional moment for all involed.
"I don't know if I can put it into words right now because I'm still kind of feeling it," Barlow said. "I was excited for them. Working on this project so intensely, for a solid two months, I was looking at their faces constantly.
"To actually be reunited with them in person and seeing the faces that I've been working with this whole time, it's a very special feeling," Barlow added.
Jack Williams, the coordinator of Metro Deaf's after-school program, signed: "I can't even explain it. It's just been amazing. I really wanted to bring this group of students and staff from the Metro Deaf School to see for themselves. This is the first time we've seen this painting, and it's just so inspiring for the students to see their work here on the wall. It shows the pride we have in the community and the Vikings. It really happened, and it's good to see."
The artwork hangs in a stairwell of Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center that leads from the second floor to the third, and is a common path for players, coaches and Vikings staff to get to the cafeteria.
""I love it. It looks fantastic," Barlow said. "And I love that it's in a thoroughfare for a lot of folks — players, people who work in the building — to see it. It's kind of perfect."
Barlow worked on the project for two months straight in order for the school group to be able to visit during training camp.
Besides the excitement of seeing the finished artwork, students and staff also attended Saturday's walk-through practice and met Viktor. More than a dozen Vikings players then signed autographs for the students, including Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Barr, Brian Robison, Laquon Treadwell and C.J. Ham.
"Just seeing the kids and how happy they are, that has been my favorite part," Williams signed.
"Seeing them run around and meeting players and meeting Viktor and seeing this whole facility has been really cool. I have a long list of favorite things."
Jones signed: "The Vikings are really cool. It's so fun to mingle with those guys."
Added Barlow: "That was super dope. I'd never been at a practice or anything like that."
Emily Bohmbach, the Vikings Senior Manager of Marketing Partnerships, oversaw the project from start to finish. She pitched the idea to Barlow and Metro Deaf School, and was overcome with emotion Saturday when the students and staff saw the artwork for the first time.
"It started off with good intentions of including underrepresented communities within the Vikings, and having that unity that the Vikings bring everybody together no matter who they are," Bohmbach said. "But being able to see it through, it was super special because it puts such a personal and human touch on the project.
"Hearing that the deaf community throughout the metro has been touched by this project, and they all want to come see it, the project did more than what we even thought it would do for the unity between the two communities," Bohmbach added.
Williams said the school will now feel forever linked to the Vikings.
"I think it really represents MDS pride and our pride in the Vikings team," Williams signed. "We always wear Purple on Fridays to help support the Vikings and cheer on the Vikings. Now, here we are and there it is on the wall. It's amazing."