High above a busy St. Louis Park intersection, in a reflective fluorescent yellow vest, hard hat and safety harness, artist Randy Walker has been gradually weaving miles of rope through a stainless steel grid.
His 44-foot cylindrical work "The Dream Elevator," at 36th Street and Wooddale Avenue, heralds the iconic Nordic Ware tower to the east. The public art project was designed as part of TowerLight, a new senior living campus whose front door is just yards away.
Walker, 41, decided to look to St. Louis Park history for inspiration in an area full of new construction. He was drawn to the Peavey-Haglin experimental concrete grain elevator.
"This one form changed the entire Midwestern landscape and beyond," said Walker, who lives nearby in Minneapolis.
Built in 1899, the grain elevator was the first circular concrete elevator in the United States and possibly the world. It's now listed in the National Register of Historic Places and emblazoned with the Nordic Ware logo.
"I thought it was pretty rich material, showing that St. Louis Park has a history of wanting to dream, innovate and build," said Walker. "It's also a beautiful form."
"The Dream Elevator" owes its creation to a collaboration between the city and TowerLight's developer, a concept St. Louis Park has helped pioneer.
"In the end, the developer pays for the art piece and the city leads the development," said Cindy Walsh, director of St. Louis Park's Parks and Recreation Department. "It's a great partnership."
Connections out of 'nothing'
Walker is no stranger to construction sites. Originally from Tacoma, Wash., he has a degree in architecture from the University of Oregon. He worked in architecture for 10 years before shifting his focus to art -- "the creating and actual making of things and experimenting with different materials, not just drawing."
He started experimenting with thread. "It seemed like such a silly material -- it was nothing, especially coming from architecture, with its stone and steel and glass," he said.
The ability to create something out of "nothing" intrigued Walker, so much so that he has spent much of his artistic career developing an elaborate weaving technique using fibers carefully selected for each project. The goal is ultimately to draw attention to a place through the act of weaving and the resulting interconnections of the fibers. He has had temporary works at the Mill City Museum and Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis and also in Atlanta.
With "The Dream Elevator," Walker seeks to tie together a variety of elements through the intertwined red, yellow, blue and burgundy ropes. "I'm connecting with the historical structure, to the people who are driving by, to the people who are watching from their windows and with the architecture," he said. He will use about 12,000 feet of rope, just over two miles.
He's not the only one who sees the connections. Jack Becker, executive director of St. Paul-based nonprofit Forecast Public Art, consulted on the project.
"It starts as a concrete cylinder, but then turns into an infrastructure for this network of fibers," he said. "This beacon, a tower, will attract attention and visibility and goodwill for that place."
When it's completed sometime in the upcoming weeks, onlookers will be able to walk through it and experience the work from within. At night, a light in the ground will illuminate the structure.
"You'll be able to look up and it's a single shot up to the sky," said Walker.
Sara Glassman • 612-673-7177