Artist selected for Father Marquette Park

A design and construction management team was chosen Monday by the Marquette City Commission to begin planning accessibility improvements at Father Marquette Park. The city recently received $140,000 in state grant money to go toward the improvements, with a local community group committing $60,000 in additional funding. (Journal photo by Kelsie Thompson)


Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — An Escanaba architect and sculpture artist has been selected by the city of Marquette to design and build seating and an entranceway for the Father Marquette Park overlooking Lake Superior on South Front Street.

The public art initiative is part of a project to improve accessibility, lighting, security, irrigation and visitor experience of the park.

Ryan Brayak was the final choice out of nine submissions to complete the $30,000 project, which is funded through the Iron Ore Heritage Trail Recreation Authority and a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant.

Brayak, a graduate of Escanaba Public High School and the University of Michigan School of Architecture, said in an email he is honored and plans to draw on the life of Pere Jacques Marquette (1637-1675) — the Jesuit missionary priest and explorer for whom the city and county are named — for inspiration.

“My background research has opened (my) eyes to the interesting and very challenging life which Father Marquette led,” Brayak said. “I plan to draw upon some of the physical artifacts of Father Marquette’s life like canoes, the Great Lakes, and rivers, along with the contours of the site to develop my designs.”

The public art project costs will be divided, with $25,000 provided by the IOHTRA and $5,000 from the trust fund grant. The Marquette Beautification and Restoration Committee partnered with the city to provide the matching funds for the $140,000 trust fund grant, which is for accessibility improvements to the park.

The Iron Ore Heritage Trail — a 47-mile, year-round, multi-use, interpretive trail that crosses the Marquette Iron Range — overlaps with the city’s 12-mile bike path at the half-acre park, which features a 20-foot bronze statue of Father Marquette that was presented to the city in 1898.

IOHTRA Administrator Carol Fulsher said “the way (the trail) is now, there’s really no good access (to Father Marquette Park) and nobody would even know it’s there.”

The project will place white stripes on the road to allow crossing, and there will be a pathway with signage for bicyclists to access the park from Lakeshore Boulevard.

“Our role is to try to point out our history along the trail, so we thought it was a good synergistic partnership with the city and the beautification committee,” Fulsher said. “We’re always trying to partner with places along the trail that will add interest to trail users. So yes, we’re all about building (and) managing the trail, but we also want to make sure our trail users have places to go too, because I think destinations are important for trail projects.”

Fulsher said the IOHTRA has also contributed financially to Lions Field in Chocolay Township and Schwemwood Park in Marquette Township.

The review panel — consisting of Fulsher, members of the Beautification Committee, city staff, Architect Bill Sanders and Daric Christian of Northern Michigan University’s Art and Design program — narrowed the candidate selection and conducted interviews in July.

Brayak received the highest interview score, with questions covering materials, vision, the park’s historic significance, Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, design process, cost and past work.

Brayak has completed pieces for Dickinson Memorial Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, Duke LifePoint, Bay de Noc Community College and the city of Gladstone, according to city documents.

In his artist statement, Brayak said he routinely works with concrete, wood, stone, metals and reclaimed materials. Brayak’s work can be see online at

Marquette Arts and Culture Center Director Tiina Harris, who was on the review panel, said applications came from Los Angeles, Chicago and around the country, but it was great they were able to select a Michigan native.

“We like the fact that he resources a lot of local materials, and he uses them in incredibly unique ways,” Harris said. “We liked a lot of his ideas and ways of approaching the project.”

Harris said the Father Marquette project shows why the city needs a policy and a commission for establishing guidelines and a process for implementing and funding public art within the city.

“We hope this is the beginning of many public art projects, especially with the commission looking at a public art policy in the next month,” Harris said.

The public art task force, which includes Harris, Fulsher and other local stakeholders, has been working for the last year on a policy that will promote public art within the city. The Marquette City Commission is expected to take up the group’s recommendation this fall.

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is