Thanks to a design from a Prairie Phoenix Academy student and funding facilitated by Groundswell Conservancy, Patrick Marsh has a new metal sculpture of a phoenix standing more than 12 feet in the air surrounded by steel flames.
Officials from the towns of Bristol and Sun Prairie, the Sun Prairie Area School District, the City of Sun Prairie and Groundswell joined the Sun Prairie artist, Rossi Parisi, and Don Schmidt, a sculptor from the Town of Dunn, for a dedication ceremony on Thursday, April 1 on the south side of the marsh just off Town Hall Drive.
Groundswell Conservancy Community Conservationist Tony Abate acted as master of ceremonies to thank donors including Tim and Beth Mielcarek, John and Judith Hutchinson and Ann and Ron Semmann, as well as an anonymous donor, for funding the sculpture.
“Patrick Marsh has become one of those very special places where we’re investing a lot of time, with partners and schools and, and school groups to do really great things out here and try and connect more people with this special place in more ways,” Abate said.
In 2004, Groundswell purchased its first piece of property at Patrick Marsh, as an addition to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) State Wildlife Area.
“And ever since then, partners have really shown a lot of support and love for this place and help make Patrick Marsh more of a special place,” Abate said.
Examples of that support include Groundswell working with Operation Fresh Start to construct and install the wildlife viewing platform on the north side of the marsh, working with landowners to expand protected lands around Patrick Marsh, as well as working with neighbors, volunteers and the DNR, to manage the lands Groundswell owns.
As a way to make people feel more connected to the marsh, Groundswell Executive Director Jim Welsh brainstormed a contest to develop a piece of sculpture that could be interactive.
Sonya Sankaran, Dane Arts Mural Arts artist and school/community engagement professional, assisted in finding the connection between kids and art and Patrick Marsh.
“She really helped us figure out how we could make something that’s more permanent, long lasting, and can connect people to nature through art,” Abate told a crowd of about 40 people at the noon ceremony.
º“Also, we’ll share stories and voices of people that may or may not have a lot of voice in the community too. And we identified Prairie Phoenix Academy — the alternative high school here in Sun Prairie — and Westside Elementary School. They had great stories and a vision and a voice to share for what nature meant to them.”
Abate and Groundswell contacted Don Schmidt, a metal artist, to help with the project.
“This is the sculpture that came from your drawing and the coolest thing about this sculpture — not only is it a great representation of youth voice, and a great representation of nature, but it also allows people to interact with the sculpture,” Abate said.
The sculpture features a hanging 12-foot phoenix over eight-foot metal flames in the back and four-foot metal flames in the front to accommodate different terrain heights. Groundswell intends to use the sculpture for more than just its appearance.
“We can really weave natural materials through these flames — so things like flowers, grasses, sticks, other natural materials that you can find, you can weave them through the flames,” Abate said. “At the end of the year, we’ll pile up — you can see these little brush piles – we’ll pile up brush piles in the middle, and we’ll have a community bonfire event.”
Schmidt said he first made a scale model of the sculpture from the drawing.
“I ran a metals business for 40 years, so I have a lot of experience,” Schmidt said. “I made a scale model that looks just like that, so that then I could work off of that. It’s all made out of what they call rusting steel or COR-TEN steel, which is the same steel that you see on the big electrical poles on the side of the freeway. All the steel will patina off. It all be one color — rust — and it usually takes a year or two before that happens, but it’ll stabilize. In other words, it’s rusted away in five to 10 years. This will be here a long time. So, basically it’s just a lot of work.”
The climate presented more issues than fabrication and assembly, according to Schmidt.
“The flames were all, everything was hand cut and the flames all had to be hand ground so that if people were handling or putting their fingers on all that, they were not going to cut themselves. The install — we installed this past Monday in a 40 mile an hour wind. So that was . . . a bit of a challenge.”
How many pieces of metal were involved in the flames?
“A lot,” Schmidt replied succinctly. “Well, they are sheets. I get the sheets, the base plate. That’s three 16-inch sheets. If you want to call it that or a plate. And they’re four-by-eight sheets. So, I think I went through at least a half a dozen sheets — yeah — six or eight. I mean, I lost count quite frankly. We installed the footing last fall — it’s got a huge concrete footing. I think we drilled at least a three-foot by five-foot hole.”
Not offering “a lot” as an answer for the next question — how many hours were required to install it — Schmidt gave the next best answer.
“I have no idea. I mean, just to meet this deadline, I think probably 60 hours just getting ready to install it,” Schmidt replied.
Now that it is complete, Schmidt said he really hasn’t processed the final assembly of the sculpture.
“It takes me about a year or so to become separated. I mean, the day that we installed, I turned my head back [to look at the sculpture with the marsh in the background] and I got a big smile,” Schmidt said. “It’s a trip. It’s fun to see this thing. I mean, I hope that what it’s there for, and they actually have a community event. That’s what I picture at some point. I didn’t realize this whole community’s over here. I’m from the south side of Madison down in the Town of Dunn. Tony told me that eventually there’s going to be community events here.”
Sculpture artist Parisi had no idea what the finished product would look like.
“I really just wanted to find a symbol that stood for our school,” Parisi said. “And I wasn’t specifically thinking of anything, but then I just kind of thought of the idea of an eagle and the flames, and I thought it really represented our school.”
Parisi seemed pleased with the final assembled sculpture.
“It’s mind blowing. I didn’t think that it would get this far. It’s so surprising,” Parisi said. “I heard that they were going to turn it into something, but I didn’t think that it would get completed. But I just got a text a few days ago, an email and it surprised me so much. And I’m so happy that it’s completed.”
Like Schmidt, Parisi had no idea how large the finished product would be.
“Not at all,” Parisi replied when he was asked if he thought it would be 12 feet off the ground with eight-foot and four-foot flames, adding: “This is so cool.”