Young artist restores ‘Ronald’

FAIRMONT – It’s hard to match the effervescence of a character like Ronald McDonald.

Sarah Moller might come close, though.

The two recently spent some quality time together, when the young artist-in-the-making offered to give her employer’s old Ronald McDonald statue a new life.

“I’d never painted on someone’s smile before,” Moller said, a huge grin on her own face as she posed for a photo next to the newly painted statue after it was unveiled in front of the Fairmont fast food restaurant.

Sarah, 15, has worked at McDonald’s since June, following in the footsteps of three of her older siblings.

“Definitely I’ve really enjoyed it,” she said, giving a high-five to her boss, Wes Clerc, who owns the Fairmont McDonald’s and several others in the area.

Getting her first commission as an artist was an unexpected boon.

“I’ve never really had any art lessons,” said Moller, who often looks to YouTube tutorials to learn various painting techniques, “but for as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by art.”

Moller, who is homeschooled, will start on her post-secondary education next year, getting her college generals completed before she graduates from high school, and then she plans to focus on an arts-based degree. When she moves out of the house, from the room she shares with multiple female siblings, she dreams not of having her own bathroom, but her own studio space.

“It’s been nice to put my art out there a little more,” she said, noting she recently entered her work in a regional high school art show in the Windom area, and she received a people’s choice honor. “… And now, I can drive by McDonald’s and say ‘I did that!'”

“We had her sign his shoe, so we can say we have an original Sarah Moller,” Clerc said.

Ronald’s tenure with the Fairmont establishment goes back a bit further. The statue was delivered in 1982, back when there was an outdoor play area. It was refinished in the early 1990s, Clerc said, but over time Ronald was starting to look pretty weathered again, so Clerc moved it into the gated trash area until someone could be found to spruce it up.

That’s when things went from bad to worse for poor old Ronald.

Customers driving through from Kansas thought the statue was going to be thrown away, so they loaded it in the back of their pickup truck and away they went. They got as far as Albert Lea, and the police caught up with them.

“He had an adventure!” Moller said.

When the statue was back in McDonald’s custody, Moller approached Clerc and asked him what he planned to do with it. He needed an artist, he told her, and to his surprise and delight, she told him she was the girl for the job.

For weeks, Moller worked in the restaurant’s basement, sanding off the layers of old paint, before meticulously applying fresh coats.

“It was more like Paint by Number. You just need a really steady hand,” for which she turns to music and strangely enough … caffeine.

Her methods seem to have worked in Ronald’s favor.

“I don’t think he’s ever looked better,” Clerc said.