LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings By Barbara La Valleur — Public Art: The Importance Of Conservation

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For nearly three years, I’ve been involved with a group that meets quarterly called the Forecast Public Art Breakfast Scrambler. About 40 artists, public art administrators, art supporters, educators and Twin Cities area planners gather to share information, learn from each other and network.

Started by Jack Becker 37 years ago, Forecast Public Art is one of the nation’s first nonprofit organizations dedicated to advancing the field of public art. It remains at the forefront of public art innovation. Thankfully, Jack is still at the helm with a terrific staff of very talented people.

Some of the services Public Art provides are expertise to artists and communities seeking help with planning public art projects and support to artists with grants and technical assistance. The Breakfast Scrambler fits into the mission to “strengthen and advance the field of public art” locally and globally.

Its international magazine, Public Art Review, is the only journal in the world exclusively devoted to contemporary public art. Filled with public art stories and photographs from Minneapolis to Milan and St. Paul to Singapore, it is a must read for people involved in public art anywhere in the world. I always look forward to reading it cover to cover.

On Feb. 8, 2013 I attended the first Breakfast Scrambler and was one of four people in attendance who answered the request to help organize future events. The two other original volunteers on the committee were Ben Owen, Percent for Art program officer with the Minnesota State Arts Board, and Andrea Streudel, a St. Paul artist. Working with Forecast staffer Kirstin Wiegmann, program director of Artist Services, Education and Community Engagement and including ideas from participants, we continue to have interesting, educational and helpful presenters and topics of discussion. Earlier this year, Jessica Fiala, a Forecast program associate, joined the organizing group and acts as communications liaison. Other interested participants have since joined the small Scrambler organizing group.

The Scrambler meets at the beautifully artistic and architecturally charming home of the McKnight Foundation with its fabulous view of the Stone Arch Bridge and the Mississippi River. McKnight serves as co-host generously providing the space as well as healthy breakfast treats.

At our last session, we arranged an on-site experience touring four Minneapolis public art sculptures. The subject was art conservation, something about which I had previously known little to nothing.

Presenters Kristin Cheronis and Laura Kubick, both Minneapolis art conservators, with Kristin Cheronis, Inc. (KCI) educated the group about the importance and intricacies of public art and outdoor sculpture conservation both contemporary and historic.

An artist herself, Kristin worked for 15 years as a sculpture conservator at Mia (Minneapolis Institute of Arts) before establishing KCI in 2001.  Kristin has a reputation of being the foremost public art conservator in the region, acting as the primary conservator for all of the major collections of public art in the Upper Midwest and caring for roughly 250 works of indoor and outdoor sculptures annually. She is the conservator for public art collections of the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth, as well as for the historic sculpture collections of Public Arts Saint Paul and St. Paul Parks.

She also cares for the art collections of such public entities as Metro Transit, Hennepin County Libraries, the University of Minnesota and private companies including General Mills, Target and Mayo Clinic. Museum clients include Mia, Walker Art Center, Minnesota Museum of American Art and Weisman Art Museum.

Kristin lectures on conservation topics related to modern and contemporary sculpture and is writing a book on the Conservation of Outdoor Sculpture and Public Art.

Her conservator colleague, Laura Kubick, participates in project administration, condition assessment, testing and hands-on conservation treatment of public art, sculpture and artifacts.

After a brief but fascinating slide presentation depicting a major restoration project of “The Boy With a Dolphin” sculpture at Mayo Clinic, the group boarded a chartered bus to view four sculptures cared for by KCI.

We visited the Sheridan Veterans Memorial (ETHOS, by Robert Smart) at Sheridan Memorial Park, 1300 Water St. N.E.; Pioneer Monument at B.F. Nelson Park, 434 Main Street N.E.; Dancers by Fernando Botero, 500 Washington Ave. S. and the I-35W Bridge Memorial by Tom Oslund near the Stone Arch Bridge on West River Parkway.

The most surprising sculpture, not only for its design, location and artistry, but the fact that I’d never heard nor even read about it let alone seen it, was the Sheridan Veterans Memorial at Sheridan Memorial Park. Hugging the Mississippi on the east bank next to the old Grain Belt Brewery in Northeast Minneapolis, the huge spherical steel sculpture is surrounded by 10 granite markers was designed by Robert Smart and dedicated in June 2014. The markers commemorate the conflicts and wars in which Minnesotans have served from the American Civil War to Operation Enduring Freedom. Quotes about peace are etched in granite in the circular walkway. It is surrounded by beautifully manicured peace gardens with colorful flowers and plants. The sculpture emphasizes the cost of war while stressing the importance of peace.

Kristin used this sculpture as a great example of pre-fabrication  conservation assessment on the front end of a project. There are many benefits to the artist, the artwork and the owner when an artist confers with someone like her to use the correct materials to avoid foreseeable future problems.

MY TAKE: I was so moved by the sight, feel and experience of this memorial that a few days later, I brought my husband and sister-in-law to see it. We had the time to read all the text on the granite markers and pavers and reflect on the importance of peace.

Next, we bussed a short distance to view Pioneers at B.F. Nelson Park, which connects Boom Island Park with Nicollet Island. Pioneers is a 23-foot Minnesota granite sculpture dedicated in 1936. Commemorating the courage and hard work of the early settlers on one side and Native Americans walking with Father Hennepin on the other side. The granite sculpture represents the style of the era in which it was created while today raises concerns for being politically incorrect.

Pointing to the lowest level of the three-tiered base, Kristin explained the darkened edges on the granite caused by oil from unthinking skateboarders. Where skateboard stoppers were installed on one side, there were no dark marks. Another area showed evidence of water damage from holes in the top of the sculpture when it was moved a few years ago. While most of the holes at the top had been filled in, clearly others had not, resulting in unsightly white streaks at the base; it is a sculpture in need of TLC by KCI.

MY TAKE:  This sculpture made me so uncomfortable, I couldn’t leave fast enough. 

Our third stop was to view Dancers by the world famous Colombian artist Fernando Botero. The 10-foot bronze has dominated the corner of Fifth and Washington Avenues South for about 15 years. The two smooth robust dark brown figures, one female, one male, stand dancing together proudly in the buff.

Kristin was animated in her description when discussing the care of Dancers, an enjoyable sculpture on which to work. She said she enjoys the constant comments from passers-by when she and her crew are cleaning, waxing and buffing the sculpture which they do twice a year. She pointed to prickly bushes planted as a deterrent to vandalism climbing on the artwork. The 3-inch base was also added for the same reason.

MY TAKE: I resisted the urge to run my hands over the Dancers’ smooth derrieres. I’ll have to go back and do that. 

Our final sculpture was the nearly $1 million I-35 W Bridge Memorial known as The Remembrance Garden. Dedicated four years to the minute from the moment of the tragic bridge collapse on Aug. 1, 2007, it is located a block east of the Guthrie Theater on West River Parkway.

The main part of the memorial consists of 13 tall steel and opaque glass columns. It stretches 81 feet in a symbolic tribute to the date 8.1 of that tragic event and represents the 13 people who died in the bridge collapse.  Lit at night, the names and stories of each person become visible.  The Survivors Wall contains the names of the 171 people who were on the bridge and survived. It stands behind the columns and was originally designed as a water feature with water running over the face of the wall. Kristin pointed out challenges that have resulted due to incompatible metals corroding and staining the metal and other issues which cause splashing water on unsuspecting visitors to the memorial.

The stainless steel lettering with an inspirational message reads: “Our lives are not only defined by what happens, but by how we act in the face of it, not only by what life brings us, but by what we bring to life. Selfless actions and compassion create enduring community out of tragic events.” For a variety of reasons, the water has been turned off. According to a July 8, 2015 story on the Minnesota Public Radio website, the city of Minneapolis is planning a lawsuit against Oslund and Associates, the architectural firm that designed it.

A small observation deck with a view of the Stone Arch Bridge and the Mississippi River can be found behind the memorial.

MY TAKE: This moving sculpture loses it greater impact because of the issues that currently prevent the water from flowing. I sincerely hope that this can be rectified. It solidifies the point of the presentation:  I’d love to return to see the water gently flowing over the 171 survivors’ names. 

The three-hour presentation and bus tour was incredibly informative and it is clear that anyone involved in public art would be wise to develop a conservation plan to protect, maintain and preserve their artwork.

As chair of Public Art Edina, now for the challenge of generating the funds to carry out a public art conservation plan for Edina’s permanent sculptures.

Anyone interested in or involved with public art in Minnesota is welcome to the Scrambler Breakfast. To be notified about future events and be added to the email list contact Jessica Fiala at jessica@forecastpublicart.org.

One thought on “LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings By Barbara La Valleur — Public Art: The Importance Of Conservation”

  • Therese October 7, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    Thanks for this report! I searched for these sculptures and enjoyed seeing them in light of your comments.


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