By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
DES MOINES, Iowa, April 29, 2017 -- We've known from the first time we saw the designs that the $1.1 million "Waukee Railroad Pergola -- in the shadow of the rails" woulld be a big deal.
It will be like an arbor or canopy, we were told, 340 feet long, 15 feet high, 18 feet wide. Steel and concrete, much of it covered with colorful, glazed ceramic clay tiles. It will be installed on the southeast gateway trailhead of the Raccoon River Valley Trail, on the west edge of Waukee. There will be additional components of it in a triangle around that trailhead, and at other trailheads on up the 89 miles of the paved trail, all the way to Jefferson. Many of the installations will be lighted at night.
The big, bold, overall design is an interpretation of the railroad heritage of this recreational trail. It conveys the idea that just as the railroad once connected communities and businesses and customers, the trail now provides the same kind of connection -- for 14 communities in three counties, and for metropolitan Des Moines with rural Iowa.
But it was still dreams, plans and designs until 10 days ago. That's when lead artist David Dahlquist invited a small crowd of trail supporters and public art advocates into the RDG Dahlquist Art Studio in downtown Des Moines. He wanted to show us what a team of RDG Planning & Design artists are doing as they build the components of the "pergola."
It is, to say the least, hard work.
For one thing, during this spring and summer, they are molding, shaping, pressing, trimming, sanding, firing and glazing 7,758 colorful ceramic tiles. They start out about a foot long, six inches wide and about 1 1/2 inches thick. Their projection is it will require 31 tons of clay to make them. Each of the tiles starts out weighing 13 pounds, then winds up being trimmed and fired down to about eight pounds. But each of them will have to be picked up and moved at least seven times during the whole process.
"You're wiped out at the end of a day after working with all that weight," said Brian Frederiksen, one of the RDG artists. "Oh, man, you wouldn't believe how wiped out, especially on a Friday after you've done it all week. There's a lot of lifting."
His colleague artist Kate Chandler is small and slight, but probably stronger than you are. All day long, she handles bulk clay and the resulting tiles. She makes it plain: "You can't be a wimp and work here."
There's something else big going on with this project, something stretching way beyond the art studio.
Dahlquist starts a count of about a dozen employees of RDG Planning & Design who are involved more or less full-time on the pergola. Then there are the concrete workers, the steel workers, the electricians, the landscapers, the fundraisers, the city & county officials, the staff and boards of the Iowa Great Places and Vision Iowa Program. So many people working on a huge public art installation.
"This is grass-roots economic development at its best," said Dahlquist, with a proud twinkle in his eye.
In May and June, you'll see workers pouring footings at the Waukee trailhead and other trailhead locations. In August, you'll see real construction start on the installation in Waukee. By early September, hopefully, you'll see a pergola that is completed, or nearly so. And between now and then, there is going to be a whole lot of fun construction-inspection happening for people all along the Raccoon River Valley Trail.
You'll learn more about this project in the 21 photos and captions below here.
Here is the artists’ conception of how the huge “Waukee Railroad Pergola – in the shadow of the rails” will look at the RRVT trailhead on the west side of Waukee.
Dan Towers, Michelle Fields and Cindy Jensen of the Raccoon River Valley Trail Association check out some of the completed, colorful glazed clay tiles which will wrap a column in the “Waukee Railroad Pergola.”
Michelle Fields, of Paton, secretary of the RRVT Association, stands next to two components of the “Waukee Railroad Pergola – in the shadow of the rails” to show just how big they are. At the left is one of the “bollards,” which will be positioned to separate the trail from vehicle traffic, and the huge blue tube is one of the 15-foot-high “columns” that will be wrapped with colorful glazed tile and support a canopy of steel cross bars and stylized railroad-like rails.
David Dahlquist, of Des Moines, welcomed a crowd of RRVT supporters and public art advocates to his RDG Dahlquist Art Studio headquarters on the south edge of downtown Des Moines on April 20 to show the progress the team of artists there are making in making the components of the “Waukee Railroad Pergola.” Dahlquist got his first commission for a large “public art installation” in 1986 and has now completed about 70 of them across the U.S. In central Iowa, two of his biggest works are the "Art Bridge" on the High Trestle Trail and the 120-foot-tall "Prairie Paragon" tower in the Paragon Office Park in Urbandale.
This poster at the reception shows the specs for the 7,758 ceramic clay tiles being made at the RDG Dahlquist Art Studio to use on the “Waukee Railroad Pergola – in the shadow of the rails” installation. Each of the tiles is just more than 11 5/8 inches long, 5 5/8 inches across the face and 1 3/8 inches thick.
Artist Brian Frederiksen, of RDG Dahlquist Art Studio, addresses part of the crowd at the recent reception at the studio.
Frederiksen uses the “Waukee Railroad Pergola” brochure and tells how most of the clay tiles on the columns have different design and color schemes on their glazed surfaces.
Artist Kate Chandler grabs big chunks of heavy moist clay, which comes in big tubs from a company in Wisconsin. She then puts the clay into compression machine that shapes it into perfectly round logs, each about a foot long. Frederiksen (background) takes those logs, puts them in the pressing machine at the right that heats, shapes and presses the tiles.
Here Chandler measures and then cuts the round logs of clay that are shaped by the compression machine she is using.
Chandler trims the excess clay from the pressed tiles, while Frederiksen prepares to press more of them.
Frederiksen moves over to another work station to sand any excess clay as the tiles are prepared for being “fired” in the kilns at the studio.
Dan Towers, Greene County Conservation director from Jefferson, stands beside a movable stack of trays, each of them holding three of the clay tiles ready to be fired. As they work toward making 7,758 of the tiles for the “Waukee Railroad Pergola – in the shadow of the rails” project, the RDG Dahlquist Art Studio team has tiles stacked and spread all over the studio in downtown Des Moines.
Here Chandler loads tiles into the huge kilns, where the tiles are “fired” for about three days at temperatures up to 1,946 degrees Fahrenheit.
Here artist Dahlquist talks to Frank Hoifeldt, an RDG Planning & Design architectural technician who is involved in planning where and how the massive public art installation will be installed along the RRVT.
At the reception, Hoifeldt of RDG is talking with Chris, Adam and Belinda Green of C. Greene Contractor, Inc. That Des Moines-based company will do most of the concrete work in building the components of the “Waukee Railroad Pergola.”
Matt Jermier (left) and Brian Frederiksen are kind of on opposite ends of the “Waukee Railroad Pergola” project. Jermier is director of parks & recreation for the City of Waukee, which will own and maintain the pergola at the RRVT trailhead. Frederiksen is one of the artists building the components of the pergola.
At the reception, Cindy DePond of the Waukee Arts Council and Randy Jensen of the Raccoon River Valley Trail Association took a few minutes for a chat. They have worked together for about four years now as members of the committee that has worked to make “Waukee Railroad Pergola” a reality.
Forrest Ridgway (left), owner of the Bike World shops headquartered in West Des Moines, is shown here at the reception with Jensen. Ridgway is a major supporter of the RRVT, the public art project on our trail, and of trails in general across Iowa.
Jim Miller (left), who serves on the Dallas County Conservation Board and formerly served as a member of the board of the Raccoon River Valley Association, is a financial broker who has been a key fundraiser for the “Waukee Railroad Pergola” project. Miller, who lives between Waukee and West Des Moines, is shown at the reception with Mark Hanson, a member of the Dallas County Board of Supervisors and a longtime advocate for the RRVT.
Curt Pion, of Dallas Center, visits with Erna and Steve Morain, of Waukee, at the reception. All are loyal supporters of the RRVT and the public art project.
Sven Peterson, city administrator of Perry, which will feature components of the “Waukee Railroad Pergola – in the shadow of the rails” at their city’s RRVT trailhead, was visiting at the reception with Amy Lucht, of Adel, a member of the RRVT Association board of directors. In the background you can see part of the equipment and supplies that the artists have spread throughout the RDG Dahlquist Art Studio as they build the components of the pergola.