Sculptor Jim Brenner is returning to Edison High School this spring to set up a temporary art studio in the auto shop.
As soon as the snow melts and the weather stays above freezing, Brenner will put the finishing touches
on Edison’s new softball backstop in Jackson Square Park at 2212 Jackson St. NE. He’s spent the past three years designing and
installing sculptures at Jackson Square, and he learned a couple of weeks ago that one of them earned a spot in a new coffee table book featuring 350 public art pieces from around the world.
“It’s a real honor to be selected,” Brenner said. “This makes the project meet more people, and hopefully they will come out [to the park].”
The sculptures “In Flux” and “Double Flux” arrived in 2009 and 2010. They feature layers of steel plates with sculpted glass interiors that change colors, symbolizing the diversity of the neighborhood.
“Having artwork there that lights up at night makes me more aware that [the park is] there,” said Ginny Sutton, president of the Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association. “It’s part of our neighborhood, it’s a social center, and that’s a pretty big impact.”
To light up the backstop, Brenner is installing photovoltaic panels that gather the sun’s energy and store it in batteries to power LED bulbs. The panels are very durable — they’re actually made for boats, and passengers can walk on them and use them for power on long boating trips.
Students at Edison learned about the solar technology last year while Brenner worked in the auto shop. He used the shop as a staging area for the sculpture, and classes cycled through to see the work in progress and learn about the engineering Brenner used to design the artwork.
When Brenner was a high school student himself, he never expected to become a sculptor.
“My mother is an artist as well,” he said. “At first I didn’t want to do any kind of artwork.”
But he got a job as a set designer for the Guthrie Theater, and found he enjoyed building set props.
“I realized that I kind of like working with my hands,” he said.
He obtained a fine arts degree from the University of Minnesota — he lived less than two miles from Jackson Square while in school — and went on to earn a master’s degree from the Art Institute of Chicago. He still lives in Chicago today, designing sculpture for corporate campuses, private collections and gallery exhibitions.
Brenner recently finished tweaking the imagery for the bronze plaque that will appear near the backstop. It commemorates Louis Rober, a Minneapolis fire lieutenant who had a hand in inventing the game of softball. Rober wanted to keep the firemen fit, so he designed a game they could play in a vacant lot with a medicine ball and a two-inch diameter bat. The game became popular and spread to other fire companies, and it was dubbed “kitten ball” after a team called the “Kittens.”
The kitten ball legacy prompted Brenner to use the word “innovation” to frame the top of the backstop. The last two letters of the word will light up at night, and the lighted “on” word is a nod to the school’s namesake, Thomas Edison, and his invention of the electric light bulb.
The Holland neighborhood invested about $200,000 to help pay for the backstop and additional artwork that wasn’t part of the city’s original commission. Additional commitments have come from Edison High School, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and the Edison Community Sports Foundation.
“His work has really struck a chord in Northeast,” said City Council Member Kevin Reich (1st Ward). “He uses cor-ten steel that has a great industrial flair to it. He has really drawn in a nontraditional audience.”
Sutton said the sculpture is bringing new life to the park.
“The park is actually being used now by neighbors, children and families,” she said.
When Brenner finishes the backstop, he’ll start work on another commission to build Edison a new electronic sign for the school’s front lawn. The sign will be framed in backlit glass that mirrors the glass at the top of the backstop, which was chiseled and chipped by hand.
Brenner expects that all of his work in Northeast will be wrapped up by the end of April.
“There isn’t too much left,” he said.
In addition to building the new sign, he’ll cast a limestone cap on top of the 100-foot wall, build a patio behind home base, touch up the galvanized bleachers, install lamps across the street, embed the bronze plaque, finish some welding on the backstop and switch on the solar lights.
“It seems to go on forever,” he said. “To be close [to completion] now is awesome.”