By Coco Mault
St. Paul, our capital city, has many immediately recognizable landmarks: the mighty dome of the capital building and its gilded horses, Mickey’s dining car, the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. There are plenty more, but a larger than life rabbit named Friendship might not make the list. Yet. Just west of downtown, within view of the Capital, the St. Paul Cathedral, and even the Minnesota History Center, lies an often overlooked sculpture garden full of larger than life structures.
Western Sculpture Park can be found just west of downtown St. Paul on Marion Avenue between Interstate 94 & University Avenue. Founded in 1998, this rectangular swath of land that was once a not-so-desirable area is now home to exhibitions produced in part by Public Art Saint Paul, private funders, and the Fuller Aurora Neighborhood Association.
Max Rabbitat, by Mary Johnson
Visitors to the park may first notice a giant rabbit with large pink ears standing at attention near the sidewalk on North Marion Street. Its reddish body appears to be sculpted out of a cement or clay-like material. At first, the rabbit appears a little alien, as its eyes are not the small beady eyes that rabbits typically have, but are instead very large circular, shiny chrome wheel-covers. There are bits and baubles embedded in the rabbit, and it isn’t until one is right next to it that it becomes apparent what the bits are. On the chest of the rabbit there is a kind of name tag which reads “friendship.” Other objects include shells, bits of bike chains, clothes pins, and even stones and colorful beads.
Behind the rabbit are a handful of sculptures that look to be fantastical devices for feats still unknown to humans. Mark DiSuvero’s abstract structure, Grace a toi, uses four towering steel beams to support an intricately shaped bundle of steel, Melvin Smith’s sky-high robotic, art-deco-like figure looks like it could walk — if only there was a giant wind-up key to turn. Amy Toscani’s Muscle, a bulbous, bright teal and orange structure straight out of a Dr. Seuss book towers over the rest of the sculptures in the park and even has a large spinning detail at the top that moves in the wind. It’s not too hard to imagine these fantastic structures teetering to life if they were to ever be struck by lightening.
There are plenty of objects closer to eye-level as well, such as Peter Morales’ Jaguar carved out of creamy white stone; it looks like an object from an archaeological dig, but its large body could also make a nice bench. Thanks to smart phones, many of us now are able to take photos at a moment’s notice and Shaun Cassidy’s massive white photo frame is a hard-to-resist photo opportunity. Morales’ and Cassidy’s sculptures aren’t the only interactive pieces.
Don Osborn and Ted Sitting-Crow Garner created pieces that beg to be touched as well. Osborn’s 10-foot by four-foot by 12-foot stained and varnished fabricated steel structure entitled Embracing Reason looks like an intricate, if large, puzzle piece. It also looks like two chairs sized to rival that of Edith Ann’s, but they aren’t nearly as cushiony. Instead of a table in the middle of the chairs that is parallel with the ground, there is a one that is perpendicular to the ground. There is a large slit cut out of this strange divider so, if two people were to sit (actually, they would probably have to stand) and stare from each chair, it would only be possible to see a small portion of each other’s faces at a time. Not far from this is Garner’s structure of large skull assembled with white slats like those from a picket fence. Lips protrude from the face as a bench, and behind the face, a long twisting bench stretches out behind, snake-like, to an American Flag tail tip. It’s difficult not to play on this one — it could appear scary at first, but the skeleton really does have a rather friendly face.
A brightly colored mega-phone sits in the park, too. Not a modern-looking one that runs on batteries, though, but one that looks to have belonged to a 1930s fraternity. Titled Democracy Speaks, and done by Andrew MacGuffie and John Hock (curator of the park)> It is bright yellow on the outside and blue on the inside. It is meant to be used, angled just so in case someone needs to shout across the city to a friend. The youth in the neighborhood call it “Yellow Yeller.”