Superman is hardly the only “Man of Steel.” That moniker could apply to Steven Maeck of Decorah, Iowa, a sculptor who works in welded and assembled steel.
The 64-year-old Vermont native is among 10 Midwest artists chosen this year to have their sculptures leased and placed throughout the Quad-Cities last month, in Quad City Arts’ public sculpture program. The pieces will be on display through June 5, 2022.
Maeck’s work, “Muso’s Thought,” is near the Channel Cat dock on the Mississippi River in downtown Moline near the Radisson hotel. Since 2002, he has designed and fabricated sculptural work either fully or partially composed of iron and steel.
“The focus of my recent work has been almost exclusively in the utilization of industrial detritus which I alter and/or recombine in such a manner as to create work that is not only resonant and original, but manifests the aura of having been created from base raw material,” he says, noting he has applied to Moline before to be part of the public art effort, but this is his first piece accepted.
“Public art is one of the true behaviors or actions of a civilized society,” Maeck says. “The increasing emphasis and popularity of public art nationwide is a very good sign in the face of all the horrendous stuff that has been occurring recently.
“From my brief experience with this program, I can say that Quad City Arts is staffed by dedicated, competent, professional and friendly people,” he says. “That fact, and the fabulous site that ‘Muso's Thought’ is currently occupying by the river, are the best things I am enjoying about this program.”
The quirky title represents “whatever occurs in the consciousness of the person who encounters the work,” the artist notes. This is just the second year the city of Moline has participated in the longstanding program, and each city has its own selection committee that picks the art.
Moline added two more sculptures this year, for four total; Bettendorf added seven and the Geneseo Public Library leased a sculpture for the first time. Rock Island elected to re-lease four of the sculptures from last year’s group, and to buy the sculpture “Reaching to the Moon” by Tim Frye for its permanent collection.
The other Moline sculptures placed in June are:
Geoff Manis, manager for the Moline Centre Main Street program, says his group (working with Renew Moline) had nearly 60 sculptures to pick from, facilitated by Quad City Arts.
“We had two more than last year; Bass Street has a sculpture pad that’s never been used,” he says. “And Mercado is such a wonderful community event. My role at Moline Centre is to do anything to help complement what they have going on -- to their vibrancy. They have a really high traffic count, and it’s very much a front door to Moline, heading from the west into downtown Moline.”
Quad City Arts has led the leasing and installation of public sculpture in the Quad-Cities since 2002. The City of Rock Island has participated in the program yearly since 2007 and Bettendorf since 2008.
Six sculptures have become part of Rock Island’s permanent collection, while Bettendorf has added seven. Davenport purchased nine sculptures while involved with the program. Sculptures are chosen by appointed committees and leased for one year. All sculptures are for sale and can be purchased by individuals, businesses, or a city for permanent installation after June of the following year.
“Each city has its own selection committee and that's because they're familiar with their city, they're familiar with the locations,” says Dawn Wohlford-Metallo, Quad City Arts visual arts director. “Certain spots need something big and bright and other spots need something smaller, and they're thinking about each location as far as what is going to show up best and be the best for that spot.”
One of the former sculptures in Bettendorf (from Ascentra Credit Union, 2019 Grant St.) – “Just Visiting” by Don Horstman, Easton, Mo. -- was selected by the Geneseo library this year.
“That was sort of unexpected. They just saw the program and they were like, well, we want one,” Wohlford-Metallo says. “They didn't even know that they could pick from all these new sculptures. So they just thought, well, these are leaving -- we want this one. We're always trying to expand to other cities.”
“There are programs similar to ours all over the Midwest and what artists do is to enter their available sculptures in multiple competitions,” Wohlford-Metallo says. “And then the ones that are about to be freed up from wherever they were last year are available to move somewhere else.
“So, some of the ones that were in our program in 2020 are going to go somewhere else, and some of them will go home with the artist,” she says. “Sometimes they repaint them or they freshen them up, and then they wait to be selected by another program or purchased. Many public sculptors have mini sculpture parks on their property.”
Bettendorf has been pretty aggressive in purchasing pieces. “Purchasing is part of the goal, I think, so they can have some permanent sculptures,” Wohlford-Metallo says. This year’s new ones in Bettendorf are:
Last November, Ascentra lost their beloved president and CEO, to pancreatic cancer at 52. The credit union looked to replace its sculpture and found a bit of divine intervention.
“As I looked through the sculptures, one stood out,” Naeve says of “Flame of Remembrance.” The artist’s statement on designing the piece said: “Traditionally, we have annual remembrances for those long passed. However, in 2020 we were thrust into a reality where we have many to remember for their sacrifices NOW, not later. So please think of them as you look at this Flame of Remembrance.”
“Ascentra selected this sculpture for our plaza because it seemed fitting,” Naeve says. “Not only did we lose our dear friend and mentor, but it was a year of loss for many as our nation endured a pandemic and a social awakening. The sculpture is there for each employee, member and community member to see and reflect upon those who have made a difference in their life and those they’ve lost. May their flames forever burn inside each of us.”
She encourages other organizations to participate in the public sculpture program “as it brings art and vitality to the community. The Quad City Arts makes it so easy to be a part of this program,” Naeve adds.
Wohlford-Metallo says the most exciting part of the process is “watching a Hampton Crane operator use their boom to lift a sculpture from an artist’s vehicle, hoist it high in the air and skillfully bring it down gently onto a concrete pad, as directed by the artist who created it.”
The artist will then drill holes into the concrete and secure the sculpture. Bettendorf-based Hampton Cranes generously donates their services each year to Quad City Arts.
Since the Covid pandemic inspired many people to seek stress relief and relaxation outdoors, the area’s public art may have been appreciated differently and more widely over the past 16 months.
“We had people contact us and say that, and ask about maps, which we are going to be putting on our website,” Wohlford-Metallo says. “So yes, we did have a lot of feedback from the public that they wanted to get out and go see them.”
All sculptures currently on exhibit, along with permanent sculptures, will be able to be viewed at www.quadcityarts.com/public-sculpture.html, as well as the websites of the cities that sponsor them.