Today I went on sort of scavenger hunt, a personal search for public sculpture. I constrained my mission to be in the Saint Paul area. Furthermore, I had to blog what I found that same day.
I started out in the city of North Saint Paul, dovetailing a necessary shopping trip with the start of the mission.
I found the famous North Saint Paul Snowman right on Highway 36. He wasn’t commissioned and no professional artists designed him. He was built by the townspeople many years ago. I understand he’s been repaired a few times.
Then I headed south to eastern Saint Paul, targeting Mounds Park. There I found very old ‘sculptures,’ the burial mounds of the Indians (Hopewellian culture) who lived there many years ago. A plaque said these were between 1,600 and 2,000 years old. There are ten mounds in the park. Iron fences cordoned all of them off, probably because they are still sacred.
In the same park, I found two more recent sculptures, made from local stone. The woman is obviously an indigenous person. The other sculpture was involved in some controversy a few years ago. I can’t recall much, except that the work wasn’t wanted there.
I headed west across the river and through downtown to the immense Saint Paul Cathedral. I popped my head in the door and joined a tour that was going on. The docent was pointing out all the subtle symbolism and meaning in the statues (Saint Anthony, here). I ducked away and snapped a photo of the stunning main altar.
Further west, and then up Lexington Avenue to Como Park. I stopped first at the McNeely Conservatory. Here the theme is Edwardian England with a cultural nod to Kew Gardens. The place is lush and green inside. Several sprites tiptoed above the water. The ponds at their feet teemed with hungry koi.
The Conservatory is connected to the Como Zoo by an atrium. I found this automaton offering advice for a quarter. I didn’t have any change, nor time to stop, so I hurried on to the Zoo.
There are several bronze animal statues. I captured ‘Don’ the gorilla. All the statues had ‘Please Don’t Climb’ signs in front of them, but they were all shiny and worn from climbing kids, anyway.
The Japanese Garden was closed for the season, but I managed a shot of a stone lantern through the chain link fence.
On my way out of the park I found a single, multicolored stone with faces carved into it. It looked like an immense flint. I think was the most interesting thing I saw today.
I had a less than an hour left so I headed back east to my suburban town, Woodbury. Woodbury came of an age when public parks stopped adding artwork. Wealthy people stopped patronizing public art years ago in the old cities and it never blossomed in my suburb.
There is one sculpture I know of, a new thing in a tony subdivision called ‘Dancing Waters.’ It features bronze statues of several kids joyously tumbling about. I like it a lot but something bothers me about this sculpture. It’s not inside the neighborhood where people could enjoy it. Instead, it is at the entrance to the subdivision. Cars fly on a very busy road. I doubt many of the drivers know it is there. It’s as if the sculpture was meant to wave people down and come into the neighborhood to buy a house. Or it’s a billboard of sorts proclaiming “Educated, Artsy People Live Here!” Pity. I think the city should buy it and relocate it to the popular playground in Ojibway Park.
And finally I close with this little display that’s just yards from my front door. Unlike the ‘Dancing Waters’ statue, this is tiny and private. It’s a memento tied to the base of a neighborhood traffic sign. Several years ago, a jogger collapsed at the sign’s base. He died of a heart attack on the spot. A few days afterwards this little tribute appeared. It’s always maintained and it changes periodically. This past summer it was a small plastic putto with flowers. I have never seen the caretaker and none of my neighbors have seen him, either.
It’s not fancy. Yet I pause every time I see the tiny display. Whoever the ‘artist’ is, they still feel a sadness and longing.