Putting down ‘Prairie Roots’

Artist installing brightly-colored sculpture outside Red Baron Arena

Photo by Deb Gau On Tuesday, artist Randy Walker and a crew from Bladholm Construction began raising brightly colored poles that will form part of a sculpture outside the Red Baron Arena and Expo. Walker said the installation of the sculpture will continue throughout the day today.

MARSHALL — Thermometers around town said temperatures were back above zero in Marshall. But it sure didn’t feel that way outside the Red Baron Arena and Expo, where artist Randy Walker and a crew from Bladholm Construction were raising brightly painted steel poles onto footings and bolting them in place. Everyone was bundled up, with jacket hoods drawn and faces covered to protect them from the bitter wind.

Walker has installed public sculptures in cities around the country. But, he said, “I’ve never done it like this. This is the topper, for sure.”

The work that Walker and Bladholm Construction started Tuesday morning will complete a process started more than a year ago. Walker, a Minneapolis artist, was one of three finalists whose designs were considered for a sculpture project on the Avera Plaza, outside the Red Baron Arena. Walker’s sculpture design, titled “Prairie Roots,” got unanimous support from both a sculpture committee and by members of the public asked to give their feedback.

In spite of the cold on Tuesday, construction was starting to make progress. By noon, Walker estimated the installation was about 25 percent complete.

“I would say right now, we’re in a pretty good rhythm,” he said.

Walker’s sculpture design is meant to reflect the prairie landscape of southwest Minnesota. A cluster of 210 square steel poles, painted in bright shades of red, orange, yellow and green, resemble tall stems of grass.

“Those colors were inspired by prairie grass in different light,” Walker said. The colors shift, depending on the angle they’re viewed from. Metal reflectors at the top of each “grass stem” call to mind both the tufts at the top of prairie grasses, and the shape of hockey sticks, Walker said.

The poles are also different lengths. While the taller poles will mainly be positioned toward the center of the cluster, Walker said there will be some variety. As each pole was raised on Tuesday, he walked around, looking at the sculpture area from all angles before deciding where to place the next pole.

“It’ll be cool when there’s 210 of them,” one of the crew said, as more and more poles were fitted into place.

In the center of the sculpture, there is an open space where people can gather, or sit on benches. The floor of the gathering area has a pattern designed to look like the course of the Redwood River near Marshall.

All the site work for the sculpture has been exciting, Walker said. But constructing the vertical part of the sculpture had its own appeal.

“To see something coming out of the ground, with the colors, it’s exciting,” Walker said. He said it’s also been fun to see the design take on a physical presence. Until the sculpture was built, it was impossible to know for sure how well it worked together with the available space and the Red Baron Arena.

“There have been some surprises that are nice,” Walker said. He found there were some great views of the sculpture from the upper floor of the arena building, framed by the windows.

Walker said he expected installation of the sculpture would continue throughout the day today.

Jim Swartz, of the sculpture project planning committee, said the group would like to have a formal dedication for the sculpture, either before or during Marshall’s Sounds of Summer festival.