MONTEVIDEO — Where two rivers meet the prairie, art has taken root.
For the fourth year in a row, the community of Montevideo is using its outdoor landscape of where prairie and the Minnesota and Chippewa Rivers meet as the setting for a public art work. Victoria Fortenberry-Jones of Minneapolis is completing work on a public staircase on the north end of Main Street.
“ I wanted to do something that was inspired by the geography of Montevideo,” said Fortenberry-Jones as she worked last Friday.
She is transforming the stairway into a mosaic of the river valley environment with a stained-glass theme running through it.
Fortenberry-Jones said she was inspired by “Rustician,” a stained-glass montage created on a 1920’s-era McCormick Deering tractor by Karl Unnasch of Chatfield. It is prominently displayed on the south end of Main Street as one of the community’s earlier public art works.
In contrast, the staircase being transformed by Fortenberry-Jones was, until now, a nondescript area of the downtown area, largely hidden and overrun by brush. Montevideo councilman Dan Sanborn and former city manager Steve Jones volunteered earlier this summer to clear the site. Local entrepreneur Dennis Larson donated the rocks that were lined along the staircase like boulders along the shoreline of a stream.
“Gorgeous, very striking,” said Tesa Siverhus-Maus, a member of the Montevideo Arts Project and with the Montevideo Area Chamber of Commerce. She enjoyed a preview of the work completed to date. She said the artist is transforming the stairway into a very welcoming and attractive place.
Fortenberry-Jones said she knew that creating a work on a “canvas” made of concrete and doing so outdoors would come with challenges, and it has. Her first day’s work was ended by a sudden storm and downpour and her scramble for shelter.
The stairway climbs over 30 feet and includes 52 steps. She has created her images on its seven-inch high risers only. The waterway she is creating will tumble and flow its length.
She is incorporating into the work images created by 10 young artists in the community. Last May, she offered workshops with students and the public to solicit drawings of riverine fauna to include in the mural. She said she was very impressed by the submissions she received, particularly those from students at the Alternative Learning Center.
This is her first public arts work. Fortenberry-Jones is an arts instructor in Maple Grove. She works in ceramics and paints on her own. She said she loves her students and teaching, but admits it has a drawback: It limits the time she can devote to creating her own works.
She said she really appreciates this opportunity in Montevideo to focus on creating her own work. Working on a public art work puts her on a stage where all can watch. She said she’s had plenty of curious visitors come to see her at work.
Montevideo issued a request for proposals last year, and she was among a number of artists to respond. Her husband is the son of former City Manager Steve Jones, and as a result she is very familiar with the community and its natural environment.
A dedication ceremony for the new mural is planned for Sunday, September 8, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. The event will be free and will feature food, door prizes and a ribbon cutting ceremony.
The Montevideo Arts Project reports that it still needs to raise several thousand dollars to reach its budget for this project. A grant from the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council, which is being used to launch the project, requires local matching funds. Any individual or business donating $250 or more will get their name listed on a permanent sign that will be placed at the mural. Tax deductible contributions can be sent to MAP Project #4, City of Montevideo, PO Box 517. Montevideo, MN 56265.