Art flows through Alpena
ALPENA — What may appear to be merely an orange squiggle has more significance to our area than meets the eye.
Jacob Moss Idema’s planned sculpture, “The River Intertwined,” represents the Thunder Bay River, the body of water that flows through this town. It will be 16 feet high and 5 feet wide, and weigh about 1,500 pounds, seated on a 2×7 foot pedestal.
The sculpture, to be located at the west end of Washington Park, is the newest installation by Art Vision Alpena, a project of Thunder Bay Arts Council, Inc., “which seeks to enrich the aesthetic quality of community while encouraging recreation with art in nature along the Alpen Bi-Path,” a press release explains.
“This sculpture is a reflection of the intertwining of nature and life,” says the release, written by Art Vision Alpena member Tim Kuehnlein. “It symbolizes the timeless beauty of the Thunder Bay River and the trees and forests that grace its banks. River and tree are lifelines of community, having sustained various phases of human development for millennia, providing sustenance and transportation, recreation and industry.”
Idema’s concept has been commissioned by the Thunder Bay Arts Council, Inc., for the next installation along Alpena’s Bi-Path.
This will be Idema’s second Art Vision Alpena sculpture, as he created the bicycle at the east end of Washington Park, installed in 2018.
Idema said Kuehnlein approached him about a modern, abstract, bigger piece, and he developed the idea from there.
“I’ve had several influences for the river shape, the meandering, squiggly-line type shape, from different sources, and it just kind of came together,” Idema said of the design concept.
Idema’s sculpture will be hand-forged in steel and copper, the same materials he used to make the bicycle.
Idema, originally from Lincoln, attended Alcona Schools, then Alpena Community College. He lives in Alpena and is a jeweler at Bolenz Jewelry, where he has worked since 2002.
He has also been doing blacksmith work “the old-fashioned way” for about five years now. That means he does not do any welding in the traditional sense. He heats up the metals and shapes them while they are still hot.
“I lean toward the older practices,the blacksmithing, because they’re a little bit more artistic in nature,” Idema said. “And the techniques are just, kind of, more forgotten or seldom used, which intrigues me.”
Idema is being honored as Thunder Bay Arts Gallery featured artist for March and April. A reception for him is planned from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Friday at the gallery. His work will be on display through the end of April.
The reception also serves as the reveal of the 2020 Art Vision Alpena Bi-Path sculpture.
“Idema is presently working to establish himself as a preeminent blacksmith in the Alpena area, with a focus on educating and increasing awareness of the value and beauty of fine, decorative ironwork,” a press release states. “He is endeavoring to produce premium quality pieces for both private and public commissions. He takes personal interest in the supreme embellishment of the City of Alpena, in particular the downtown area.”
Idema does commissioned decorative metalwork, making unique designs as requested by clients.
“I like making home decor pieces like sets of drawer and cupboard door pulls, paper towel racks, decorative hinges, wine racks, coat hooks, hangers for pots and pans, and much, much more,” Idema said.
To learn more about Idema and his work, visit his Instagram @jacobmossjeweler.
“It will be the biggest thing I’ve ever made so far,” Idema said of “The River Intertwined.” “So it’s kind of daunting, but it should be fun. It’ll take all summer. Every spare minute of my free time.”
Organizers are excited to move forward with a new sculpture, but the project comes with a $45,000 price tag.
“It is with great excitement that more sculptures along the Alpena Bi-Path continue to materialize,” Kuehnlein said in the release. “Since 2017, nearly $150,000 in cash and in-kind contributions has been coalesced for 11 new sculptures along the Alpena Bi-Path — three new installations in 2019 alone including ‘Alpena Letters Sculpture,’ ‘American Dogs Sculpture’ and refurbishment of the Alpena Yacht Club stone.”
The group is seeking contributions from the community to support this project and the continuation of Art Vision Alpena.
“It invigorates a community, I think,” August Matuzak said of Art Vision Alpena. “It gets people thinking about things that you normally wouldn’t have on your radar.”
Referring specifically to the “Alpena Letters Sculpture,” he added, “I think once that’s installed and people see it, and the visual impact that it has, you’re going to have people stopping, taking their picture in front of it. It’s going to end up in advertising for the Northeast Michigan area. Same with the river sculpture. At 16 feet tall, it’s going to be pretty hard to miss. Someone coming to Alpena, that’s going to be one of the things that sticks in their mind.”
The project is a revival of an original plan from the 1970s.
“The Alpena Bi-Path and sculptures have their origins in a 1974/76 concept of the Alpena Sculptured Bikeway and Walkway in celebration of the nation’s Bicentennial,” the release notes. “‘Sculptured Fountain’ was added as the first sculpture in 1978 at Besser Museum for nearly $50,000. It is now valued at well over double its original cost.”
The idea of adding more sculptures was resuscitated in 2017 upon the 45th Anniversary of Thunder Bay Arts Council, with ‘Departure of the Great Blue Herons’ (2017), ‘Global Collaboration Awareness’ (2017), and the ‘History of Industry’ series (2018), Kuehnlein explained. With that success, Art Vision Alpena was created in 2018 along with an endowment fund established by August and Peggy Matuzak at the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan to help provide for long-range expansion and care of the sculptures.
“There aren’t many towns that can say they have something like this,” Kuehnlein said. “Especially small towns. For a small town, it’s really kind of unique.”
Sculptures are scheduled leading up to the 250th anniversary of the U.S. in 2026, the nation’s Sestercentennial.
“These sculptures provide value added to the community, its aesthetics and the opportunity for experiential engagement,” Kuehnlein said. “There is no doubt that Art Vision Alpena is yet one more iteration of a long-term strategy to further beautify our community and make it more attractive for work and pleasure by locals and visitors alike — further fostering a sense of place where people want to live, work and play.”
For more information about Art Vision Alpena, contact Thunder Bay Arts at 989-356-6678 or at email@example.com. The gallery is located at 127 W. Chisholm St. in Alpena.
“The Alpena Bi-Path and its growing collection of public art and sculptures within one of the most idyllic and beautiful settings … is reinterpreting our community from its foundations,” Kuehnlein said. “We are merging art with nature, our surroundings, and encouraging people to recreate with the arts and culture of our community. This will surely contribute to the economic dynamism necessary for our community to continue to flourish in the 21st century.”