Bell stolen, teahouse proposed for Nicollet Island site

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April 18, 2005 // UPDATED 1:53 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Jeremy Stratton
Jeremy Stratton

Prayers for peace have been on hold for more than two months since a bronze bell was stolen from Nicollet Island's "Bell of Two Friends" sculpture.

The 12-foot bell-shaped archway stands on Nicollet Island between the Hennepin Avenue Bridge and Nicollet Island Pavilion. Minneapolis sculptor Karen Sontag-Sattel created the sculpture in 2001 to celebrate 20 years of friendship between Minneapolis and its Japanese sibling-city, Ibaraki.

The arch is based on the shape and design of a 2,000-year-old terra cotta mold of a bronze bell discovered in Ibaraki.

Until the theft, the smaller bronze bell hung hidden inside the top of the arch. Visitors could ring the bell and then walk beneath the arch, signifying "a prayer for world peace and continued friendship" among the cities' citizens, according to a nearby sign.

Minneapolis-Ibaraki Sister City Association board member Michael Rainville assumes the bell was stolen for scrap. Vandals have hit the sculpture before, he said.

Rainville said the bell would be replaced and promised it would be better secured against vandals.

He added that MISCA hopes to build a 16-by-16-foot Japanese teahouse near the sculpture. He hopes to have plans approved and a scale model of the teahouse ready when dignitaries from Ibaraki visit on July 17 to celebrate 25 years of friendship.

Artist Gayle Fleming would build the teahouse. A similar one rests in the backyard of his South Minneapolis home.

Rainville said the project would cost $100,000, to be raised privately. That amount would include funds that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board would hold for site maintenance.

Park Board Engineer Tim Brown said maintenance funds and a building permit are the biggest hurdles ahead for MISCA. The "very unusual" design will have to pass code requirements and get approval from the city's Heritage Preservation Commission and Met Council, Brown said. If that happens, Park Board is likely to be receptive to the idea, he said.

Rainville said the site would be used for MISCA events and Japanese Tea ceremonies, as well as weddings at the nearby pavilion and possibly poetry readings.

Nicollet Island/East Bank Neighborhood Association (NIEBNA) board members reacted positively to the early plans at a recent board meeting, but they also had some reservations.

Board member Kevin Upton said that the neighborhood might not approve a structure "that would only be used five time a year."

NIEBNA members wanted to be sure that the structure will not "look like it's nailed shut" when not in use, and worried that someone might break in to vandalize or sleep.

Rainville acknowledged the fine line between securing the ceremonial site and making it accessible.

"The challenge is to make it look good all year long," Rainville said. "I want people to be able to sit and look at the river and read."