Nicollet Lanterns by Blessing Hancock to Grace Nicollet Mall

Illuminated mock-up of stainless steel lantern by Blessing Hancock

Rendering (left) by James Corner Field Operations showed a series of lighted globes. Illuminated mock-up of stainless steel lantern form by Blessing Hancock (right) features cut-out text of original poems by Minneapolis writers.

It’s as if James Corner Field Operations was channeling artist Blessing Hancock’s work when the landscape architecture firm produced a conceptual illustration for the west side of Nicollet Mall between 6th and 8th Streets. The firm’s rendering showed a series of textured, lighted globes lining the street, peeking out among the tree foliage. The globes signaled an opportunity for public art that could parallel the Light Walk they had designed for the street’s east side.

Hancock’s work is well-known and may have provided the inspiration, but what makes her Nicollet Lanterns personal and unique to the Mall are the powerful contemporary poems by local poets that will activate their surfaces.

Hancock was chosen by the Artist Selection Committee after a nationwide open call. Engaging the community is frequently part of her working process and in her application and interview, Hancock emphasized her enthusiasm for working with local writers to develop text especially for the lanterns.

Through Coffee House Press and the Loft Literary Center who assisted with the project, she invited local emerging poets and prose writers to create original works of writing.

Applications were encouraged from writers:

  • who take risks and embrace challenges
  • whose developing voices reveal significant potential
  • who are rigorous in their approach to creation and production
  • who have some evidence of professional achievement but not a substantial record of accomplishment; writers who had not been previously published were also eligible to apply.

Writers responded to the theme “Nicollet Illumination” which Hancock conceived to include four concepts: Spark, Glimmer, Shine; Speed, Momentum, Change; Knowledge, Insight, Expertise; and Culture, Enrichment, Distinction.

Photo of artist Blessing Hancock (on right) with writers Junauda Petrus, Moheb Soliman, Sagirah Shahid and Vincent Moniz Jr.

Artist Blessing Hancock (on right) with writers Junauda Petrus, Moheb Soliman, Sagirah Shahid and R. Vincent Moniz, Jr. (Nu’Eta).  Photo: Regina Flanagan.

Junauda Petrus, Moheb Soliman, Sagirah Shahid and R. Vincent Moniz, Jr. (Nu’Eta), all of Minneapolis, were selected from a pool of 83 applicants based upon the quality of samples of past work and their potential ability to develop written works for the lanterns. They were among eight writers who participated in interviews with Hancock to determine their compatibility with the artist, and potential for working on this collaborative project.

The writers were challenged to create three approximately 100-word poems or micro-prose pieces to incorporate into the lantern forms. The final text is being cut into a multi-faceted spherical shape like a sectioned-orange four-feet in diameter. The words are readable in short phrases or fragments, and the form itself sets up interesting juxtapositions of text and meaning.

Hancock says, “Nicollet Lanterns speaks to the city’s diversity and is a true collaboration between interdisciplinary fields. Giving local poets a voice in the artwork helps celebrate new perspectives and viewpoints within the downtown Minneapolis environment.”

To read about the design of the lanterns and learn more about the young writers and the poems, click here.

Rebirth of Jack Nelson’s Sculpture Clock

Jack Nelson Memorabilia

Artists create work in their studios and it passes through their hands and out into the world. Hopefully it is sensitively perceived, skillfully interpreted, and valued during the artist’s lifetime. But what happens after an artists dies and the direct connection between the artist and their work is severed? Time passes and who remembers the artist and cares about their work? How is it understood, especially if the artist, during their lifetime, did not achieve fame but was regionally recognized or perhaps known only among a circle of curators, gallerists or like-minded artists?

Jack Nelson working on the Sculpture Clock.

When I began researching the work of Jack Nelson, sculptor of the Sculpture Clock on Nicollet Mall, no archive about its creation existed. The slim trail of documents included original correspondence between the artist and the office of landscape architect Lawrence Halprin who designed the Mall from Halprin’s Archives at the University of Pennsylvania, and financial arrangements for the work in the files of the Minneapolis Downtown Council. In musty back-issues of Art News at the University of Minnesota’s Wilson Library, I read reviews of Nelson’s nearly annual exhibitions at a New York City gallery from 1959 to the early 1970s. I learned he established an innovative multi-media program at Syracuse University that influenced video pioneer Bill Viola who was his student. But there was no extensive bio material anywhere online and no Wikipedia citations.

Nelson had created this physical work – the Sculpture Clock – and I could see before me the artist’s aesthetic decisions in the idiosyncrasy of its composition and movements, and the touch of his hand in its construction. But Nelson, the artist, stubbornly remained an enigma, a vapor. Then came the breakthrough: sculpture conservator Kristin Cheronis had picked up the search and her persistent interns tracked down the artist’s widow in Upstate New York. Boxes in her garage contained Nelson’s effects and in one, they found extensive documentation about the Sculpture Clock.

Two images of Sculpture Clock mechanism

Remarkably, here were photos of Jack Nelson himself, a young and handsome man in a black t-shirt cutting, drilling, grinding and assembling the elements for the Sculpture Clock in his workshop. The trove of materials in the garage also yielded sketches and doodles, blueprints, scrapbooks documenting the construction of the work and color slides of the studio where Nelson assembled the pieces and tested the motors, refining the Sculpture Clock’s composition and movements.

Cheronis and her team, who are repairing and restoring the Sculpture Clock, pore over these materials, comparing the gleaming work in the early photographs to the corroded, damaged piece before them. The historic blueprints and photographs show the composition and relative locations of the parts but the artist’s intentions are perhaps most revealed in his actual handwork on the sculptural elements themselves: his choice of materials, construction techniques and welds, and finishes.

Fidelity to an artist’s original intentions guides the professional practice of conservators. Daily, Cheronis and her team are living inside the head of Jack Nelson as they restore his Sculpture Clock. The careful and loving conservation of this work, the only known existing permanent installation by the artist, will surely bring about a reassessment of Nelson’s career. The Sculpture Clock will have another opportunity to delight passersby on Nicollet Mall as it did when first installed in 1968, and we will have assured that this significant fifty-year-old work by young artist Jack Nelson lives on for at least another generation.

To view a photo essay showing progress with the restoration of the Sculpture Clock, click here.

Talia Moorman, City Planner with Community Planning and Economic Development, Sculpture Conservators Laura Kubick and Kristin Cheronis, and Mary Altman, City Public Arts Administrator, Community Planning and Economic Development. (Photograph by Regina Flanagan)

Talia Moorman, City Planner with Community Planning and Economic Development, Sculpture Conservators Laura Kubick and Kristin Cheronis, and Mary Altman, City Public Arts Administrator, Community Planning and Economic Development during a visit to the Sculpture Clock restoration studio in Northeast Minneapolis. (Photograph by Regina Flanagan)

Who Is A Conservator and What Do They Do?

Conservators are devoted to the preservation of cultural property for the future. They have graduate-level training in art conservation; credentials from the American Institute for Conservation; and follow a code of ethics and standards.

Conservation activities include examination, documentation, treatment, preventive care and restoration, supported by research and education.