Look for new public art in Railroad Island

A new log bench has been installed in the triangle park across from the St. Paul Police Department training facility in Railroad Island. The bench is part of a number of public art pieces in place near the facility. (Marjorie Otto/Review)

Another public art piece, installed a few years ago, includes a number of feathers painted with reflective materials along the St. Paul Police Department training facility fencing. (file photo)

The Railroad Island neighborhood has some new public art to check out this fall. 

The new installments include a large log bench and plaques about Railroad Island history. The pieces are all a part of a series of public art installations at the St. Paul Police Department training facility, which opened in the neighborhood two years ago. 


A place for contemplation

At the end of August, the new bench was installed at the triangle park across from the center, near Weida Park. The bench, which is made of a large oak tree and steel legs, was locally sourced — the tree had been cut down during construction of the training center. 

As a part of the training center construction, 1% of the project’s funds went to creating the public art on and around the site. 

The work was managed by the East Side Arts Council, which connected local artists with the Railroad Island Task Force — the neighborhood advocacy group — to come up with projects to reflect the character of the neighborhood. 

To create the bench, the arts council called on St. Paul artist Max Cora, who also created metal sculptures at the Beacon Bluff site on the East Side and another bench at the art council’s Poetry Park near Lake Phalen.

Cora said he usually works with metal, doing bronze casting and fabrication, so woodworking was a new endeavour. 

“I learned you kind of have to work with the material, instead of making it,” he said. “You have to go with the flaws, go with the ways of the wood grain.”

When it came to making the large metal feet the bench rests on, Cora said he tried to include elements reminiscent of railroads, wheels and pistons. He added that in time the type of steel he used will intentionally get a coating of rust on it, protecting it.

Beyond the challenge of a new material, Cora said the logistics alone of moving the piece were complicated. Before adding on the steel feet, Cora guessed the log weighed at least 12,000 pounds. In his studio Cora used a forklift to move the wood as he worked it.

When it came time to install, Museum Services, a local art installation company, moved the bench to its Railroad Island home.


Art everywhere

Beyond the bench, there are a number of other pieces already installed, and more to come. All along the fence that lines the training facility viewers will find a series of feathers painted with reflective materials, meant to symbolize the neighborhood serving as a migration way for birds. There is also a wind sculpture near the Lafayette Road bus stop. Both of those projects were led by artist Gita Ghei.

A series of plaques being installed were created with help from Railroad Island resident and historian Mike Penning. They’re going in near the bus stop on Lafayette Road and talk about how the throughway had originally been called Stillwater Stagecoach Road, used to connect St. Paul to the city on the St. Croix River, between 1846 and 1854. 

Another plaque describes a trail between Trout Brook and Phalen creeks that went through the land that would become Railroad Island. 

Other pieces of public art include a bike rack across from the entrance of the training facility, which is another a Cora creation. 

Later this fall, Cora will be creating a new Railroad Island neighborhood sign that will be installed in the same triangle park as the log bench, hopefully before the snow flies. 


–Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com.

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