A woman holding her chin in one hand gazes pensively down at the sidewalk below, a glow of melancholy surrounding her.
A victorious gridiron hero of days gone by cradles a pigskin.
A moose looks back over his shoulder as he lumbers along into the unknown wilderness.
These are just a few the figures, faces and personalities that populate the sidewalks of downtown Sioux Falls’ Phillips Ave. – a journey into the past, a look at the present and sometimes a glimpse of the future known as the Sculpture Walk.
Each sculpture along the street is elevated on a stone pedestal, a nod to the Sioux quartzite bedrock found in the area prehistorically and which can still be seen in Falls Park. The stone anchors this stretch of sidewalk in history, balancing out the neon lights of tattoo parlors, hipster coffee shops and trendy eateries that threaten to tip the scales in the other direction.
Sioux Falls, this urban oasis on the prairie, is itself a balancing act between old and new, tradition and innovation. Fitting then that the works of imagination along the Sculpture Walk are no different.
Pulling back the curtain of the past is the bronze figure of a Native American woman holding a basin of water with a little one on her back. She’s noticeably weary, aged too soon by the journey she is undertaking.
This sculpture by Ben Victor, titled “Our Heritage is Our Future,” emanates emotion. The woman’s expression is both sad and resolute, as if she’s seen the sorrow of this world but refuses to give up for the sake of her child. It’s an obvious illustration of Sioux Falls’ Indigenous history with a timeless message: a little perseverance goes a long way toward making the impossible seem possible.
In contrast to Victor’s traditionalism is the modern bent of many of the creations lining the avenue. An aluminum structure aptly named “Portal,” appears to suck passing pedestrians into an alternate universe through a vortex. “Here Comes the Sun” suspends a burnt orange sphere between three bisecting prongs. And “Think Tank,” a steel conglomeration of school bus yellow appendages and red crisscrossing bars on a vertical black base, is almost indecipherably abstract.
But all the sculptures along the walk aren’t divided into strict categories of “traditional” and “modern.” Many are an acute blend of the two.
Take “Graystone Grasses,” a stainless steel and red sandstone structure towering outside Wells Fargo bank. The materials of the sculpture are decidedly modern, but upon closer inspection it can be seen that native prairie grass was the inspiration behind the piece.
Past and present come together once again in “Triceratop,” where the form of the prehistoric herbivore is composed of assorted metal gears, pipes and what appears to be an old tractor seat in lieu of the typical green skin, tusks and claws.
This spectrum from prehistoric to futuristic – the blend of old, new and everything in between – may be one of the many factors that draws people to downtown Sioux Falls, where they can take in a show at the Orpheum, sample artisanal cuisine at Bros Brasserie or even study a sculpture or two.
On this particular Saturday night – the weather still warm with the last vestiges of summer – downtown Sioux Falls is abuzz with activity. Cars and motorcycles roar down the street with bass pulsating from their interiors, dogs ranging from poodle to pit-bull prance and sniff excitedly and teenagers out on a double date awkwardly walk along, unsure if holding hands would be cool or weird.
The creations of bronze and steel are silent in the wake of all the honking, barking and laughing going on around them. But they are far from forgotten.
A mother cajoles her reluctant little boy into taking a picture beside “Spaulding” the majestic terrier. An older couple interrupts their after dinner stroll to read the inscription on “Galloping Ghost,” stepping back to look at the majestic football hero in all his gridiron glory. A man smoking a cigarette sets his to-go box down on the rock base of “Brenna” and subsequently taps on her morose bronze frame with his finger.
The sculptures of downtown’s Sculpture Walk add life to this busy stretch of restaurants, novelty shops and watering holes. Even in their suspended forms of reality, they are continually changing with each selfie snapped in their presence, kid that uses them as a jungle gym or closeted art critique who admires their depth of shape or elegant linear form.
Old and new effortlessly come together in these metal figures, building on the history of downtown while subsequently rocketing this stretch of sidewalk into the future. It’s an unobtrusive cultural treat that leaves an undeniable impression.