BEMIDJI -- Despite a tumultuous past year for the community, the Bemidji Sculpture Walk has come into its 22nd consecutive year, bringing with it continued support of local businesses and tourism, as well as more Native American inclusivity and modern upgrades.

In late May, 16 sculptures by artists from across the Midwest were installed around Bemidji’s downtown area for the project, putting the total at 34. Now, anyone walking along the streets can peruse the new art pieces, which include wood, steel, glass, brass, copper, aluminum and rock elements, along with recycled tools, industrial gears and auto parts.

“We were very pleasantly surprised at the number and quality of submissions we got. Last year, artists, just like a lot of businesses, had a really tough year. Most of them do this for a living, and that was pretty tough on them,” said Mike Hanley, a Sculpture Walk board member. “So we weren't sure what to expect, but not only did we get a very high number of entries, the quality is really, really superior this year.”

Hanley said the Sculpture Walk this year spotlights both talented newcomers and veteran artists, with some, like Tim Nelsen, being from around the area. Nelsen, of Bemidji, has two sculptures on display this year: a Gibson guitar made from recycled materials, titled "This One Goes to 11" and a Great Dane made from recycled materials, titled "Walter."

Tim Nelsen, of Bemidji, made “This One Goes to 11 — Gibson Guitar,” which is located near Tutto Bene on the corner of Third Street Northwest and Beltrami Avenue in downtown Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Tim Nelsen, of Bemidji, made “This One Goes to 11 — Gibson Guitar,” which is located near Tutto Bene on the corner of Third Street Northwest and Beltrami Avenue in downtown Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

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“We've got some pieces from some local artists that are fantastic. The Gibson guitar downtown is a fantastic piece of art,” Hanley said. “We have two or three local artists, I'd say, maybe, within 20 or 30 miles of here. We have a lot of artists who come from the Minneapolis-Mankato area, and then we do have some from out of state as well.”

Currently, self-guided sculpture tours can be done downtown using the interactive Google Map available on smartphones and computers from the BSW website: bemidjisculpture.com. Brochures are also available at the Tourist Information Center and in brochure boxes downtown.

With COVID-19 restrictions lessening, however, Hanley said there are plans to resume guide-led Sculpture Walk tours by possibly mid-June. He said the BSW board would like to hold the tours every Saturday, or at least a couple of times a month.

“We didn't do it last summer for obvious reasons, but the summer before we did, and we had a really good turnout,” Hanley said. “Our goal is to have them every weekend basically between June and August. But we hope to get them started in June and then carry them on all the way through.”

Hanley, who has a background in digital work, has also been working to instill more modern features in the Sculpture Walk. This year, the new sculptures have a label with a QR code, which people can scan with their smartphones to learn more about the pieces and their artists.

Into the Mystic, made by Tim James and Aidan Demarais of Good Thunder, Minn., is installed on May 15, 2021, in downtown Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Into the Mystic, made by Tim James and Aidan Demarais of Good Thunder, Minn., is installed on May 15, 2021, in downtown Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

“We're 22-years-old, and we’re trying to keep things fresh by adding new things like the QR code to the walk,” Hanley said.

The code also provides information on how to purchase each piece -- something the BSW board is looking to help more people understand.

“All the brand new sculptures this year are for sale, and that's one of the things we're trying to make people aware of. A lot of people we talked to said they didn't know that you can actually purchase them, ” Hanley said. “Most of our funding comes from donations and sponsorships. We try to sell sculptures, and right now, we're selling a few a year. But we’d like to make that more successful.”

In March, the BSW was awarded a Creative Support for Organizations grant by the Minnesota State Arts Board to ensure the inclusion of Native American art and increase engagement via social media.

So far, Hanley said part of the grant has gone to the digital work on the Sculpture Walk; but the largest endeavor the grant provides the BSW to undertake is commissioning a Native American sculptor for a permanent piece of artwork in the downtown area. Hanley said he believes the BSW board has found their artist, and negotiations are currently underway.

“We hope to have that up and started this summer and have that definitely for the walk by next year,” Hanley said.

Astral, created by Karman Rheault of Moorhead, is located on the corner of Third Street Northwest and Beltrami Avenue in downtown Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Astral, created by Karman Rheault of Moorhead, is located on the corner of Third Street Northwest and Beltrami Avenue in downtown Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Overall, Hanley believes the BSW has seen a successful year so far with sponsorships at a near-record level. He credits this to forging and continuing relationships with local downtown businesses and organizations like the Bemidji Downtown Alliance and Visit Bemidji.

“To me, it indicates that businesses are not only excited about getting back in business and hope to have a very successful year, but they also want to give back and help the Sculpture Walk and the groups that are helping them downtown,” Hanley said. “The reputation of downtown is that there's a really nice sculpture walk, plus Paul Bunyan and Babe and all those things. So we're just trying to add to the excitement of the downtown, help downtown businesses and get people here and keep them downtown.”

If you would like to help the BSW continue its mission of bringing new artwork and artist recognition to the downtown, there are two ways to give:

The new BSW pieces and their artists:

  • Tim Adams, Webster City, Iowa; Title: Prairie Wind Tussocks, stainless steel and Lexan/Plexiglass.
  • Mark Hall, Kasota, Minn.; Title: Brother Phoenix, steel and glass.
  • Tim James and Aidan Demarais, Good Thunder, Minn.; Title: Into the Mystic, steel.
  • Jon Kamrath, Mahtomedi, Minn.; Title: NorseEast, steel and aluminum.
  • Isaac Kidder, Minnetrista, Minn.; Title: The Eternal Flame, copper and steel.
  • Ann Klefstad, Duluth; Title: Iron Deer, weathering steel (Corten steel), life-size.
  • David Montague, Brooklyn Park, Minn.; Title: Stainless Steel Mobile #6, welded stainless steel discs and rods, and high-strength stainless steel components.
  • Tim Nelsen, Bemidji, two sculptures; Title: This One Goes to 11 – Gibson Guitar, recycled materials; Title: Walter – The Great Dane, recycled materials.
  • Karman Rheault, Moorhead; Title: Astral, steel.
  • James and Ryan Pedersen, Mankato, two sculptures; Title: Spring Study 1, torch-cut and welded steel with areas of hammered textures and applied brass; Title: Unfurl, ground and heat-treated steel.
  • Daphna Russell, Cedaredge, Colo.; Title: Horse of the Plains, bronze.
  • Craig Snyder, Plymouth, Minn.; Title: Ascending Perspectives, steel and cedar.
  • Jamie Weinfurter, Minneapolis; Title: Grief, welded steel.