The artist behind a planned large-scale sculpture in Eagan hopes his work will convey changes both nationally and locally.
Eagan resident Melvin R. Smith's bright orange-red sculpture called "Metamorphosis" will visually represent the city's newfound desire for public art. The sculpture, to be built on the Eagan Art House grounds in Patrick Eagan Park by Sept. 8, will stand more than 21 feet in height.
"Eagan decided they wanted to put out art as something for the community," Smith said as he manned a table containing a scale model of his sculpture at the Eagan Art Festival June 29. "I think that's a huge change, and I'm just glad I'm a part of it."
Smith and his wife, Rose J. Smith, have long worked on a project they call "the journey of the lost tribe." Smith said the couple seeks to artistically document the story of African-Americans. Four circles in "Metamorphosis" represent humanity coming together.
"When our country elected a black president, it told me we were one," Smith said. "We were finally coming together. We were validated by the people, and it told me we were definitely part of the country."
He pointed to recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions relating to marriage as more evidence of change.
"America has changed, and Eagan has changed," Smith said. "It's an age of change in our culture."
Two wing-like structures rising from the circles hint at a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.
The emergence of a butterfly directly represents Eagan's embrace of the arts, Smith said. He noted a two-year process the city undertook to determine residents' interest in public art.
"It's just amazing the things people were saying about art," Smith said. "They wanted to see it outside. It raised my blood level! I liked that."
Eagan looked like a wilderness when he moved to town three decades ago, Smith said. At that time, nature fulfilled residents' need for beauty.
"Now it's a metropolis, and when you have people, you need art," Smith said.
The Eagan City Council approved the purchase and installation of "Metamorphosis" and a sculpture by Minneapolis artist Marcia McEachron during a June 25 special council meeting.
McEachron's sculpture will be 6 feet tall and will also stand on the Eagan Art House grounds. The metal sculpture will consist of intersecting oak leaves with elements designed to produce artistic shadows in the area around it.
The city will use a $5,000 grant obtained from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council in 2010 to fund the "big impact" artwork.
Even a small model version of "Metamorphosis" had an impact on passersby at the Eagan Art Festival.
"Woah! What's this?" exclaimed 8-year-old Isaac Wenstad of Rosemount. "It's cool."
The abstract "Metamorphosis" piece resembled a spaceship to 9-year-old Taryn Hillerud of Eagan.
"It's weird — weird in a good way," she said. "Three-two-one, blastoff!"
The abstract nature of the piece will allow visitors to interpret it however they like, said Julie Andersen, recreation supervisor for the Eagan Art House.
"If you see circles or triangles or wings or frames or whatever, that's such a delight for the viewer to be able to see something and be able to interpret it the way they want to interpret it," Andersen said.
Residents expressed differing opinions on where the piece should go, but city leaders believed the art installation should take place at Patrick Eagan Park, said Parks and Recreation Director Juli Seydell Johnson.
"The art house has been quietly doing good work for a number of years," Seydell Johnson said. "It will bring more attention to this site and more visibility."
Seth Rowe is a Twin Cities freelance writer.