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Artist Requests Community Input On Sculpture

Photo by Jim Kent

Having the country’s largest privately-funded public art project created in the center of town is a coup for any city. Having that distinction when the local population is well under 100,000 is something to talk about.

And that’s just what people are doing on today’s Dakota Digest as we visit with West River residents to ask their opinion on a two million dollar sculpting project planned for Rapid City’s Main Street Square.

Imagine it’s 1508 and I’m Italian. I’m walking through Rome and I happen to run into Michelangelo, who lets me know that he’s just been commissioned to do this great art project: painting a ceiling for the pope.

Then “Mike” turns to me and says: “So, Jim - how do you see it? What do you think I should put up there that would best symbolize the church?”

You’re right…pretty unlikely. But that’s just what happened throughout the Black Hills and on the Pine Ridge Reservation as world-class sculptor Yuki Nagase held community meetings to ask for public input on his art project at Rapid City’s Main Street Square.

“One thing I thought about this Square project based on the impressions when I visited last summer…in August…I really felt this project was for the people in the community,” says Nagase. “So, I wanted to have community involvement.”

That community involvement consists of Yuki discussing his concept for the project he calls “Passage of Wind and Water” with anyone who shows up at his public workshops. Yuki’s concept is based upon what the architect of Main Street Square has already erected: one group of granite stones called “Black Hills Garden” set across from a second group of granite stones called “Badlands Garden”.

“So, Black Hills Garden…one part of this stone composition is based on the theme of water…which is the source of life,” Nagase explains. ““Badlands Garden structures…stone composition has the theme of wind. So, depends on these two themes…I develop some visual images. Some abstract pattern of wind goes through exterior of Black Hills Garden. And abstract pattern of wind and grasses flowing across a stone on Badlands exterior. And each garden has interior compositions. And that I develop with some movement of nature…with water in the Black Hills Garden…with nature and humans across time. And Badlands Garden interior…it shows movement of nature…the wind…but also showing geological past and humans and cultural history.”

Almost 600 people from across the region attend Yuki’s workshops. Reflective of the many facets of South Dakota history the artist plans to incorporate into his sculpture, participants cover the spectrum of age, race and gender.    


"First of all, I think it’s a real honor to be here and listen to him talk and find out what he’s doing,” says one woman.

“Bless him,” remarks a local rancher. “God, you know, he wants to do what’s right.”

“It’s a very good feeling to know that our opinions matter, we matter,” says another woman. “He’s talking about water. So…it’s so timely…and timeless.”

“Well, I think that’s great because a lot of people have different ideas,” says a World War Two veteran.

A 9-year old boy thinks “It’s kind of awesome,” while his 12-year old sister says, “I think that would be cool to see something that I drew or explained…sculpted by him.”

“Being fourth-generation Hermosa, I can relate when he expresses how the people as they came into this area,” their mother comments. “Really struggled against the severity and the variety of elements that they encountered. I’m really satisfied with the fact that he’s, you know, drawing from the community and the people and the lineage of our experiences.”

Those experiences include the lineage of the Lakota people, who Yuki is anxious to involve in the creative process.

Mary Bordeaux is Oglala and attended Yuki’s public workshop in Pine Ridge village.

“To come to Pine Ridge and to include the reservation in his community workshop, tells us that he understands that we’re a part of that community as well,” Bordeaux observes. “When sometimes I think Rapid City doesn’t always think of us as part of their community…even though we’re only ninety miles away.”

That said, Mary Bordeaux is pleased that Yuki’s work won’t be representative of the cowboy or Indian cultures. Instead, she says, it expresses universal themes that everyone can observe and discuss without getting into racial issues or politics.

- Work on the “Passage of Wind and Water” sculpture begins in Rapid City this summer.

Main Street Square http://www.mainstreetsquarerc.com/mss/

The Sculpture Project http://www.rcsculptureproject.com/

Masayuki Nagase http://www.mnagase.com/