The south shore of Lake Bemidji has an added artistic touch following the installation of four imaginative benches along State Highway 197 as part of the Bemidji Sculpture Walk on Wednesday.
“We added some art to the benches that were here. They were pretty utilitarian,” a Sculpture Walk Organizer Cate Belleveau said as four of the five finished benches were being installed by sculptor Al Belleveau, Sculpture Walk co-chair Dave Close and Parks and Recreation Superintendent Aaron Weeks.
Al Belleveau, of Puposky, created "Tool Bench," which is located along Paul Bunyan Drive. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Funded through a grant made available thanks to voters of Minnesota via the Region 2 Arts Council, Cate wanted to liven up the biking path to represent the art centricity of Bemidji.
“We’re known as such an art epicenter in Bemidji. It’s got a reputation of being a very art-centric town for being as small as it is,” she said. “This (path) is used a lot by hikers, bikers and marches, so why not make it more fun and artistic?”
With environmental signage residing on the outcropping where the benches are located, one challenge for each of the artists was to incorporate an environmental theme into their work.
One bench, constructed by Al, incorporated various tools into its design while Bemidji muralist Paula Swenson included fish on her respective bench.
As part of a separate grant, Al mentored Bemidji artist Ivan Smith as a teen and now in his 20’s, Smith has constructed an industrial-inspired bench that goes by “Live Green and Free.”
Duluth artist Ann Klefstad envisioned a mosaic detailing an otter with various other animals called “Otter and Friends,” created with the help of youth who submitted animal sketches that Klefstad would then work into the piece. Eli Hogan sketched the striper minnow, turtle, pike and frog, while Leyne Bradley drew the crayfish and green fish.
One requirement of the grant was the artists collaborating with youth and elders on the bench designs. Aside from the sketch submissions for Klefstad's project, elders were brought in to brainstorm ideas that would span multiple generations.
“This allowed elders to learn some skills themselves,” Cate said. “It’s less isolating especially during COVID times to bring together different generations.”
Once spring rolls around, the fifth bench, a xylophone constructed by Bemidji sculptor Tim Nelsen, will be placed by the playground next to the Paul and Babe statues.
Following nearly 23 years of involvement with the Bemidji Sculpture Walk, Al and Cate have plans to retire, making this project one of their last. Al may continue installing pieces, while Cate hopes the Sculpture Walk will continue on with their mission of sharing art with Bemidji’s many visitors and residents.
This, of course, includes more benches.
“There are obviously a lot of functional benches around Bemidji," Cate said. "But there are still places some artistic benches could go.”
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Bench is spelled out in tools on artist Al Belleveau’s "Tool Bench" located along Paul Bunyan Drive. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)