Growing ‘Prairie Roots’

Artist Randy Walker speaks about preparations for sculpture outside Red Baron Arena and Expo

Photo by Deb Gau Randy Walker stands by windows looking out on the spot where a sculpture project is planned outside the Red Baron Arena and Expo.

MARSHALL — Snowdrifts were forming around the spot where Randy Walker planned to build a sculpture outside the Red Baron Arena and Expo. It might have seemed like a counterintuitive time to visit the site, but Walker said there was still plenty of work to do, “getting down to the nitty-gritty” of designing the sculpture.

Walker, a Minneapolis artist who has created public artworks in cities around the U.S., was in Marshall on Wednesday, as part of the preparation process for the sculpture project.

“Now, it’s kind of a fine-tuning stage, where we look at things like how it’s going to be built,” Walker said.

Walker’s sculpture design, “Prairie Roots,” was chosen from among three finalist proposals for artwork on the Avera Plaza outside the arena. The design received positive comments from both a selection committee and from members of the public who took part in a survey on the sculpture proposals.

Planning committee chairman Jim Swartz said a dedication is planned for the sculpture next summer, likely close to Marshall’s Sounds of Summer festival in August.

For now, Walker said prep work for the sculpture will include examining the site and making decisions on sculpture materials and fabrication.

“Something I always lean towards is getting it done locally,” Walker said.

Walker said he’s been studying the building site from different viewpoints as the arena and expo was constructed.

“I’ve been able to get a better idea of the light,” as well as other landmarks at the arena, he said. New elements have been added to the site over time, like landscaping, signs and the replica Red Baron airplane on display in the building’s main entryway. Walker said he will need to work with those elements, so the finished sculpture fits well in its surroundings.

Walker’s design features metal structures around 15 feet tall, shaped and painted to look like stalks of prairie grass. The structures will be painted different colors on different sides, so the “grass” will look more greenish or reddish depending on the angle it’s viewed from. The structures will surround a central space with benches. The gathering space will also have a sculpture element in the shape of the course of the Redwood River, as it flows through Marshall.

Walker said part of what makes the sculpture project exciting is the different ways people will be able to experience it.

“It’s a space, really, and not a single object,” Walker said. People can walk around and through it, and have their own interpretations of what they see. “It’s open-ended.”

The combination of people and place is one of the things that makes public sculptures different from other work, he said. Walker may have themes that he likes to explore artistically, but when it comes to making public artworks, “It becomes more about the context they’re in,” he said. “It becomes about that place.”

As one example, this year Walker completed a large public sculpture project in Greensboro, N.C., that took a lot of inspiration from the city’s history and people. Creating the sculptures involved lots of outreach to neighboring residents, and even getting ideas and feedback from them, he said.

“To see people using the space, that was it for me,” Walker said.

In the case of “Prairie Roots,” the sculpture will reflect both the southwest Minnesota landscape, and the traditions of community and innovation in Marshall, Walker said. One of the inspiring things about the prairie landscape is the depth and strength of the native grasses’ roots, he said.

“So much of its root system is hidden. It’s a very tenacious thing,” Walker said. “It seemed like a very evocative form to use for a sculpture.”