DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- It looks like the Mother of All Whirligigs, but that beautiful spinning, twirling, twisting piece of public art at the U.S. Highway 10 overlook in Detroit Lakes, Minn., is actually a colorful kinetic sculpture, courtesy of the Lakes Country Association of Realtors.

“I love it, it’s so interesting, colorful and happy,” said Patty Labarre of Detroit Lakes, who has been involved in Detroit Lakes beautification efforts for years.

“It’s pretty neat,” said Kevin Ketter of Frazee, Minn., who was eating lunch in his truck at the overlook July 23. “Once we get a good wind, I want to see how it holds up, but it is pretty neat.”

The sculpture is stronger than people might think: Seattle artist Andrew Carson brings a lifetime of hands-on engineering and mechanical skill to his work. Known as a “glassinator,” the piece on the scenic overlook was paid for in part with a $5,000 Placemaking grant from the National Association of Realtors, although most of the money for the project was raised by members of the local real estate association and associated businesses.

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Why put it at the overlook?

Realtors know it’s all about location, location, location, and the group chose the scenic overlook because it’s a high-visibility spot, accessible and has the open spaces for wind needed for a kinetic sculpture, according to an email from the association.

“This was the best option all around,” the email said. “It provides an avenue for exposure to individuals driving in and out of town, walkers, bikers, runners, and friends just meeting to catch-up, and has an appeal for all ages.”

Seating and bike accommodations are also part of the package, provided “to make this location a true gathering place where individuals can meet to relax and enjoy the beauty of the environment that the sculpture brings.”

The real estate association considered a lot of options before settling on the artwork. A community survey was sent out asking what people thought would enhance the community: More trash cans? Additional lighting? Public art displays?

“More art” was the somewhat surprising response. So committee members began looking at artists, both local and outside the community, their designs, and what those designs would bring to the community.

Carson was chosen “because of the movement and natural beauty of his designs, coupled with the fact that it would appeal to all ages. The calming movement, vibrant color of the glass, and engineering hit all the high points the committee was looking for, and it was a perfect fit for the scenic overlook area,” the association said.

The glassinator sculpture at the Detroit Lakes scenic overlook. (Submited photo)
The glassinator sculpture at the Detroit Lakes scenic overlook. (Submited photo)

Tough enough for Minnesota’s winds and winters

The sculpture is designed to withstand high winds and subfreezing temperatures: “Because of the technical balance and engineering involved, wind does not pose a risk to the sculpture,” the email says. “The artist has an extensive history and knowledge of wind and turbines and has been fascinated with wind from an early age. His sculptures are all over the world and in every climate. His engineering and mechanics work together to provide functionality with form … Cold weather, ice and snow do not have an effect on the glass.”

On his Facebook Page, Carson writes that “It is not always easy to blend functionality with form. Only a few of the kinetic sculptures I dream are ever realized.”

Each design starts as a rough sketch on paper, he said. “Periodically I sift through my sketches and execute the most intriguing. From there I work methodically: sizing the parts, figuring the mechanics, perfecting the rotations, developing the prototypes.”

When the design is done, he prints the final drawings at full scale. “Then I engineer and make the parts with a combination of industrial processes and hand working, this includes every piece: pillars, metal elements, glass cups, hubs and transitions.”

Project will be donated to Detroit Lakes

Real estate association members had been discussing possible public art projects for several years, but the idea really took flight in early March 2019, so it took about 15 months for the actual planning and implementation. The piece was installed June 30.

The finished project will be donated to the city of Detroit Lakes. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be in August.

“Realtors live, work and volunteer in their communities and take immense pride in working to improve them,” said Alexis Peters, president of the Lakes County Association of Realtors.

“Placemaking can help foster healthier, more social and economically viable communities,” she added. “This grant will allow this space to become a true destination, igniting a sense of pride in the community while creating a space for meeting, greeting, gathering and making community connections. It is our hope that residents and visitors alike will be inspired by the artful addition to this space.”