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Arts & Life

Nagase Completes Badlands Tapestry Garden

Photo by Masayuki Nagase

Masayuki Nagase has completed the second year of work on his Passage of Wind and Water sculpture at Rapid City’s Main Street Square. The finished art piece will reflect the archeological, geological and cultural history of the Badlands and the Black Hills. We visited with the artist to discuss what he’s accomplished on the 5-year project so far, and what’s on the agenda for 2015.

It’s a busy autumn weekend in Rapid City as Natives and non-Natives from across the region descend on the area to visit or take part in the annual Black Hills Pow Wow. But at Main Street Square the mood is slower as Masayuki Nagase gives his sculpture some final touches before packing up his hammer and chisel for another year.

“This year I came back to continue working on this group of…composition…of Badlands Stone Tapestry Garden,” explains Nagase. “That’s what landscape architect calls it. And as I worked last year on five pieces…roughly chronologically the beginning of the aquatic period.”   

The first five granite stones in “Yuki’s” Passage of Wind and Water sculpture reflect the ancient history of The Badlands in images like an immense ammonite and a three-toed horse.

Credit Photo by Jim Kent
First stone carved in Badlands Tapestry Garden shows immense ammonite.

His goal this year for the final three stones of the Badlands Tapestry Garden was to reflect the feeling of change and sense of transformation that took place in this area since ancient times.

“I took the theme of this change and used a kind of metaphorical form…from lighting and tree roots…and depends on people…how they interpret,” Nagase observes. “It could be different. But quite abstract designs on three pieces.”

As Yuki notes, abstract art leaves interpretation completely open to the viewer…so there’s no right or wrong impression. 

“What do you see with this first stone, Jim?” Nagase asks   

I reply that it looks like tree roots to me. 

“Yes,” Nagase confirms. “That’s what I meant, actually. But these tree roots, if you look at…it’s also associated with the formation of lightning. That’s why one side I made it clearly this statement of lightning. So then I fused two forms together.”

Credit Photo by Masayuki Nagase
Stones carved this year show images of roots and lightning.

“And then you can also interpret it as…not just tree roots…but going into the roots of the culture…going into the roots of the history of the area,” I observe. 

“Yes,” replies Nagase. “As a metaphor we can use that. One of my friends looked at it and he said…’Oh..that reminds me of veins….veins.”

“Exactly,” I comment in agreement.   

 “And something which brings some energy,” Yuki continues.   

“And life,” I add.

 “And life,” Nagase agrees. “Nourishment and movement or flow.”

The bottom line says Yuki is there’s not just one explanation of what his work symbolizes. He adds that people shouldn’t be intimidated by abstract images and notes that the more relaxed they are about the experience when viewing his work the more open their minds will be.  

That said, part of Yuki’s goal with this year’s sculpting was to create images to reflect the various conflicts and tragedies suffered by Native Americans in this area. But at the same time, he didn’t want to immerse himself or the viewer in negativity.

Credit Photo by Steve Babbitt
Masayuki Nagase

"To express a sort of prayer for me,” Nagase explains. “To bring people’s life…not of dying…but it keeps going…and live with this transformation and change in history. So…these designs represent two major forces of energy in nature. One is an incredible force and sometimes destroys things. But the other one receives that one…and contains energy and turns it to new life.”

Yuki’s poetic description of his goals is evident in the fluid designs of his work. He plans to continue in that same creative mindset in 2015 when he begins work on the Black Hills Stone Tapestry Garden – on the opposite side of Main Street Square.

“There’s some similar number of stones as we had in the Badlands Stone Tapestry Garden,” says Nagase. “And each one has some different stories. And roughly…chronologically things move towards the spire across the entrance. So…beginning of human life in the Black Hills…that’s how I want to start.”

Credit Courtesy The Sculpture Project: Passage of Wind and Water
Members of Girls, Inc. were among Yuki Nagase’s many visitors in 2014.

Although Yuki has received many visitors since he began the sculpture project last year, this past summer saw many Lakota people stopping by the Square.

“And they all talked straight how they felt!” Nagase recalls. “And that to me is kind of surprise and….I was very happy actually. Because…you know…many people come and visit and talk to me…but quite a few people talk about more technical things. But they never talk about how they feel. So, that’s a little different experience with Lakota people.”

As Yuki Nagase returns to his home in California, the sculptor hopes the work he’s completed on the Passage of Wind and Water will not only continue to inspire people in other art forms, but will provide an opportunity for anyone who views it to think about the past and contemplate the future.