CEDAR RAPIDS — The newest piece of public art in the city recognizes the past, present and future, with a soaring abstract portrait of a strong woman reaching for limitless possibilities.
“Forge-Stand-Rise,” created by Dale Merrill of Liberty Iron Works in Mount Vernon and commissioned by the League of Women Voters of Linn County, was officially given to the city of Cedar Rapids in a brief ceremony Thursday afternoon. It was held at the sculpture’s new home along the biking and hiking trail west of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.
The 17-foot steel figure commemorates two centennials: the founding of the national League of Women Voters on Feb. 14, 1920, and the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on Aug. 26, 1920, giving women the right to vote.
“On behalf of the entire city of Cedar Rapids, I’m really excited to accept this really striking and important sculpture into our collection of public art,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart told the members of the League and the artistic community gathered for the dedication.
“Thank you, League of Women Voters of Linn County, for adding to the beauty of our community,” he said. “I really think this sculpture will be important to people, and it will inspire women and men to rise to the occasion for all the challenges we have in our future.”
Sean Ulmer, the art museum’s executive director, is pleased with his building’s new neighbor.
“I think it’s a wonderful addition to the area,” he said. “We have wonderful sculptures in front of the library, in Greene Square, in front of the museum — and now we have one more.”
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League President Jean McMenimen of Cedar Rapids is thrilled, as well, with the finished product more than a year in the making.
The League sent project information to Linn County artists in August 2019, followed by a request for proposals in October 2019. Merrill was selected for the $25,000 project in December.
“The group had wanted some type of abstract, which is kind of my world,” said Merrill, 47, who has been creating art professionally for more than 20 years.
Among his large, signature public works are a giant corn sculpture for Marion’s roundabout on 35th street, the lighted steel leaf sculpture that beckons visitors to Marion’s Uptown Artway, and a 35-foot piece for the Coralville Public Library atrium.
For the League of Women Voters, he presented six designs to the organization’s artwork committee in January, then began work on the chosen design in February. The design also was readily approved by the city’s Visual Arts Commission, McMenimen said.
“It was so uplifting and strong, but feminine,” she noted. “It built in all the things that we wanted. That’s when we brainstormed calling it ‘Forge-Stand-Rise’ — the past, the present and rising into the future. We just thought it was really a wonderful, feminine symbol with strength and hope.”
Merrill incorporated stainless steel for the figure’s arms, head and hair, and Corten weathering steel for her dress, “which will have a nice kind of cinnamon brown tone,” he said, “so we have some nice contrast within the piece.”
The oxidation will build up a protective coating, he added, so the piece won’t deteriorate.
Seeing his finished projects in their final destination is “surreal,” he said.
“When I’m involved in a large public sculpture, I’m so focused and so in depth while making them, it’s like everything else just kind of blurs around me,” he said.
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“And so when the piece is actually installed, it’s such an overall highlight and an overall reward to be able to physically see that, because it’s always just in my head space or in my studio space.
“But to finally get it out there and be able to share that and have other people, especially, standing in the presence of those sculptures, it’s awesome.”
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