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Walk Like a River: Sculptural Ensemble New Addition to Riverside Park

story and photos by Ellen Warren

“Walk Like a River.” The group name of the three new sculptures in Riverside Park is also somewhat instructional in how to find them. Start on the Oakland Avenue edge of the park and find the first piece set back a bit, near the center point. This sculpture, titled “Drop,” shares with the other members of the group its essential materials – bronze and rocks – but Drop is circular in shape. A big round bronze cage filled with rounded rocks. Think river. Think water. Think drop.

Now, weave slightly south as you head west and find “Gather” near the bottom of a small slope, close to the tennis courts. Gather’s rocks are filling several circles of varying sizes. The drops are gathering.

Continue your river-like, slightly weaving walk to the back of the Urban Ecology Center to find “Flow,” the final piece of the triad. The bronze outer structure of Flow is an uninterrupted wave-like expanse. The drops have gathered into the unity of flow. Like a river.

The smooth, beautiful rocks that fill each of the sculptures are geologically labeled “glacial erratics.” “This means,” supplies Peter Flanary, the sculptor, “they were moved from other places to here, primarily (from) the Canadian Shield and Northern Wisconsin. That’s why you see the variety of shapes and colors.” Rolled and tumbled in giant glacial rivers these rocks ended up in glacial deposits in a bordering county where they were quarried. “I think it’s really iconic of our landscape,” says Peter. “They all rolled from who knows where and wound up here.”

Peter Flanary’s proposal for public art installations was chosen from about twenty entered in a competition sponsored by the Urban Ecology Center. The project was funded through grants from the Milwaukee Arts Board and Mary Noll Foundation. A primary specification was that the artwork lead the viewer/participant from Oakland Avenue through Riverside Park to the Urban Ecology Center.

Flannery explained, “A series of sculptures allows you to get away from the monolithic presentation, the one thing, and start working with the idea of systems. I wanted three pieces that not only met the directive of leading back from the street, but they had a conceptual linkage. The concept in the beginning was very much to reflect on the site and the natural world. But I think that as it moved on it became, in a very broad sense, about the city and the river… ‘Drop’ makes not only a reference to the water motif but to the vehicular traffic, the movement, the circle…”

Originally a native of Milwaukee and Wauwatosa, Flanary taught sculpture at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) during much of the 1990s. Presently on the faculty of UWMadison, he runs the foundry there but is thrilled to report that after twenty years of teaching he finally has almost as much time to spend in his own studio as he wants.

You can see other work by Peter Flanary at the Milwaukee River Walk; the Wilson Art Center in Brookfield; three Milwaukee libraries: Central, Bay View, and Forest Home; on the beach at Grant Park, and, soon, a huge sculptural piece made with razed construction materials inside the UW-River Falls Student Union.

Riverwest Currents online edition – November, 2006