Photo: Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
May 24, 2022
BEMIDJI— There’s a new king in town.
King Norway will be reigning from the corner of Fourth Street and Beltrami Avenue in downtown Bemidji as part of this year’s Bemidji Sculpture Walk.
“For its twenty-third consecutive year, the Bemidji Sculpture Walk has premiered new artwork downtown,” committee member Michael Hanley said in a release announcing the walk’s 10 new additions. “This year’s sculptures include artworks of brass, bronze, handlebars, pine, recycled materials, sheetmetal and steel.”
The sculpture walk is a nonprofit organization that began in1999. It seeks, selects, acquires (on loan), displays and maintains sculptures in Bemidji in the interest of public arts and cultural promotion and in support of local businesses, Hanley explained.
Most of this year's artists hail from Minnesota, though there are several out-of-state artists with pieces as well.
Bemidji-based artist Tim Nelsen has two pieces, “Riverdale,” and “King Norway,” both made from recycled materials.
Tim Nelsen of Bemidji made “Riverdale” out of recycled materials. It sits at the corner of Sixth Street Northwest and Beltrami Avenue in downtown Bemidji. Photo: Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
While some might walk past the latter and simply notice a sculpture of a dog sporting a crown, it holds a much deeper meaning to those with strong ties to Bemidji’s downtown.
Rescued by myBemidji business owner Kevin Johnson around five years ago, Norway was a well-loved Bemidji mascot of sorts and never left his owner’s side.
Beyond greeting visitors to the downtown storefront, he was often spotted in person and on social media welcoming people and businesses to town or offering his calming services at events like BSU’s Destress with Pets. He even had his own Instagram account, @norwaythetherapydog, documenting his many adventures around Bemidji.
Norway was diagnosed with lymphoma early last year, and many in the community were sad to lose him when he died on May 30, 2021, due to the illness.
“I’ve been friends with Kevin for several years after meeting him through the sculpture walk and various things and follow him on Instagram, so of course I knew Norway,” Nelsen said. “I always thought it was cool how Norway was like a downtown celebrity. So when I heard he passed away, I went and talked to Kevin and said, ‘Oh we’ve got to put a Norway sculpture out there.’ I thought people downtown who knew Norway would appreciate seeing him again.”
When Nelsen approached Johnson about the sculpture idea, he said he jumped at the chance.
“Tim knew Norway for a while, and he does a dog every year for the sculpture walk,” Johnson explained. “So when he asked me if it would be OK to do a life-sized statue of Norway, I was excited about the idea and said ‘Of course!’ "
Nelsen said he tried out a new style for this sculpture, using an old oil barrel that he cut into 1-inch by 6-inch strips and wrapped to create Norway’s body, with the rest of the piece being made from repurposed metal objects and tools.
The intricacy of the details, however, came from poring over lots of photos of Norway to ensure they were as true to life as possible.
“Tim told me he was going to make it life-sized, so he asked for lots of pictures and I must have sent him like a hundred,” Johnson said. “He told me he had a big stack of them on his workbench he just kept looking at while he worked. He showed me the head when he had that done and I was like ‘Man, that looks just like Norway.’ "
Tim Nelsen of Bemidji made “King Norway” out of recycled materials. He sits at the corner of Fourth Street Northwest and Beltrami Avenue in downtown Bemidji. Photo: Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
Nelsen said he always worries the most about getting the face shape and expressions of his sculptures just right, so having Johnson’s approval on that part was crucial.
“Tim was sending me pictures off and on as he built it and I eventually got to go out and see it, which was awesome,” Johnson said with a grin. “I felt kind of weird (looking at the statue of Norway) because I kept wanting to pet it. I was like, ‘It just looks too real.’”
As for how Norway was crowned king, Nelsen said it was a social media inspiration.
“The crown was all driven by a picture Kevin had on Instagram of Norway wearing a little leather crown that was really cute,” Nelsen said. “I started calling him King Norway halfway through the sculpture process and Kevin totally went with it.”
As a sculpture walk committee member, Nelsen said once the selection process was over and “King Norway” was officially going to be part of the walk this summer, he knew just where it belonged.
“I’ve been part of the sculpture walk off and on for about the last 10 years but just joined the committee last year,” Nelsen explained. “So when Norway was chosen to be on the sculpture walk, I told the rest of the committee that we just had to put it outside of Kevin’s shop. That was all I ever wanted.”
And Johnson was thrilled with the outcome.
“They initially told me it would go on the corner next to my shop, but I’m kind of glad it's across the street instead,” Johnson said.“Because you can look at the shop in the background as you walk by and it’s in the sun a lot more over there. When I come to work in the mornings and the sun is shining on it, I just can’t stop looking at it. It feels like he’s really sitting there.”
Johnson said the committee worked hard to include him in the installation process and made sure he was pleased with the final outcome.
“I love the fact that people are going to come down and see him. Some have said they want to come ‘pay their respects’ and I think that’s sweet,” Johnson said. “I always had Norway down here at the shop and everyone knew him and now they all get to see the sculpture and I think that’s pretty special.”
Johnson got another rescue dog in September he named Tamarack, who now happily greets each visitor as they enter the myBemidji store and is slowly developing his own following around town.
“Some people have joked since I got him that there’s a new king in town, but I always say, ‘No, he’s a prince.’ He might be a king someday, but he needs some training first,” Johnson said with a laugh. “He’s not Norway.”
Bemidji Sculpture Walk information
Other new artists on the walk and their sculptures include:
- Paul Albright of Akeley, Minn., with his sculpture “Hidden Treasure” made of white pine with a metal base.
- Dale Compton of Kasota, Minn., with his sculpture “Learning to Fly” made of reclaimed metal, sheet metal and steel bars.
- Kimber Fiebiger of Minneapolis with two sculptures, “Caviar” and “Woman in the Wind,” both made of bronze.
- James and Ryan Pedersen of Mankato with two sculptures, “Meandering Connections,” made of ground, welded and heat-treated steel; raised stainless steel and brass and “Nautilus” made of welded and painted handlebars.
- Daphna Russell of Cedaredge, Colo., with the sculpture “Bison Monolith” made of bronze.
- Craig Snyder of Plymouth, Minn., with his sculpture “Sweet Pops of Brilliance” made of painted steel.
Kimber Fiebiger of Minneapolis made “Caviar” from bronze. The sculpture is situated at the corner of Fourth Street Northwest along Paul Bunyan Drive in downtown Bemidji. Photo: Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
An interactive map is available along with the option for self-guided tours of the sculpture walk by using a new Audio Tour app available on all smartphones.
Information on how to use the app can be found in brochures available at the Tourist Information Center, many downtown businesses or online at bemidjisculpture.com.
The sculpture walk is made possible in part by the voters of Minnesota, through grants from the Region 2 Arts Council and legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
James and Ryan Pedersen of Mankato created the sculpture “Meandering Connections” out of ground, welded and heat-treated steel; raised stainless steel and brass. The sculpture is situated along Midway Drive South and Second Street Northwest in downtown Bemidji. Photo: Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
Craig Snyder of Plymouth, Minn., made “Sweet Pops of Brilliance” out of patinated steel, which sits between the Woolen Mills and Harmony Natural Foods in downtown Bemidji. Photo: Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
Daphna Russell of Cedaredge, Colo., made “Bison Monolith” from bronze. It sits in front of Raphael’s Bakery along Minnesota Avenue in downtown Bemidji. Photo: Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
Kimber Fiebiger of Minneapolis made “Woman in the Wind” from bronze. The sculpture sits at the corner of Third Street Northwest and Beltrami Avenue in downtown Bemidji. Photo: Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
James and Ryan Pedersen of Mankato made “Nautilus” from welded and painted handlebars. The sculpture sits at the corner of Third Street Northwest and Minnesota Avenue in downtown Bemidji. Photo: Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
Paul Albright of Akeley, Minn., made “Hidden Treasure” out of white pine with a metal base. It is situated at the corner of Fourth Street Northwest and Beltrami Avenue in downtown Bemidji. Photo: Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer