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Fiber and nature inspire public artist

Features, Landscapes | May 1, 2008 | By:

Trained as an architect, Randy Walker has a keen appetite for creating architecturally inspired public art projects from woven materials. Some originate with pre-existing structures like the 1962, 7.6m high playground Spaceship in Minneapolis’ Brackett Park. About to get the heave-ho because after 45 years, people decided it too dangerous, Walker came to the rescue. He sprung it from its concrete moorings, mounted it on a 6m-long curving red column and anchored it with 84 steel cables in two elliptical configurations. A success, Return Journey playfully suggests fun, movement and speed.

Another re-envisioned work is Woven Corn Crib at the Gibbs Museum of Pioneer and Dakota Life in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Walker found the crib, measuring 7.6m tall and 4m in diameter, on a small Fergus Falls, Minnesota farm. He painstakingly disassembled its galvanized steel frame and roof and reassembled it at Gibbs Farm. With the armature functioning like a loom, Walker wove a colorful gossamer web on its interior that is seductively illuminated at night. Completed in 2004, Woven Corn Crib is in need of a permanent home where Walker will restore it with sustainable fabric.

Walker’s current project is the most provocative to date. Located in St. Louis Park, (a western suburb of Minneapolis) Dream Elevator shadows the historically designated Peavey-Haglin Experimental Elevator built in 1899-1900, which still stands northeast of the proposed sculpture site. “Peavey’s Folly” was an innovative but controversial structure, the first cylindrical concrete elevator in North America, and presumably the world. A target for skeptics, the elevator proved to be a success, becoming the prototype for concrete elevators that blanket the Midwest agricultural landscape, and is now a civil engineering landmark.

Dream Elevator is a poetic re-evaluation of the 38m tall Peavey structure. Its heavy-gage wire mesh and steel armature will measure 7.6m in height and 2.4m in diameter and it will be anchored by a 6m high, concrete foundation pierced by three doors. The structure’s interior will be woven with solution-dyed acrylic Sunbrella fibers — flat, 2.54cm wide braids, in five or more saturated colors. Sunbrella’s durability and color fastness makes it the perfect material for Dream Elevator. A progression in the weave’s density from top to bottom will magnify the sculptural qualities of the piece. Visitors will be able to enter and peer through the complex web of color and light to the sky.

Most intriguing will be Dream Elevator’s visual correspondence with Peavey’s Folly. The latter is an impenetrable gravity-bound, monochromatic structure of significant historic importance. Dream Elevator will be its ghost-child: less than one-half the Peavey Folly height, its transparent colorful interior will seem to visually float above the landscape. Moreover it will be accessible to the public.

Walker’s solution to the site acknowledges local history and will be a provocative addition to the public art in the Twin Cities. Construction is scheduled to start in late spring 2008 and completed before the snow flies.

Mason Riddle writes regularly about art and architecture for numerous design publications. Her piece on artist-architect Emanuel Milstein appeared in the March/April issue.

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