Historic Works by Minnesota Artists Return to the Mall

During Fall 2015, all of the public art was removed from Nicollet Mall in anticipation of its reconstruction. Carefully de-installed were the Sculpture Clock by Jack Nelson, the only piece remaining from Lawrence Halprin’s original Mall design of the late 1960s, as well as artworks commissioned during the last renovation in the early 1990s. Many of these works, by Minnesota artists who were establishing their reputations at that time, will reappear on the Mall along with the most significant public commission created by George Morrison, one of our state’s most esteemed artists. In 2018, Morrison’s granite carpet entitled Tableau, A Native American Portrait will return to the Mall.

The first artworks will be reinstalled in August 2017, including Shadows of Spirit by Seitu Jones, Ta-coumba Aiken and Soyini Guyton, and Kate Burke’s beloved Hail Minnesota manhole covers. Shadows of Spirit will be inset in the pavement between Grant Street and 11th Street, sited among trees and seating in the South Grove and Loring Woods, providing a welcoming entry to the new Mall from the Loring Park Greenway.

Jones, Aiken and Guyton created Shadows of Spirit over 25 years ago, early in their artistic careers. Committed to living and working in the Twin Cities, they became locally- and nationally-respected public artists. During a 2013 interview, they looked back on the Nicollet Mall project and its impact upon their careers and art. Read the interview here.

Kate Burke produced the popular series of manhole covers in 1992, before personal computers, digital cameras and ink jet printers. She searched her studio for the original design materials and photographed the plans and drawings, digitized old photographs, and shares her creative process with you here.

Future blog posts will feature an interview with Kinji Akagawa, creator of the seating ensemble Enjoyment of Nature which, along with Stone Boats by Stan Sears, will reappear on Nicollet Mall later in the fall.

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.