Downtown manhole covers

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May 7, 2002 // UPDATED 1:19 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Linda S. Koutsky
Linda S. Koutsky

"Big deal," you say. "They're everywhere." Big, round, metal things with raised bumps all over and a hole in the middle about the size of a fifty-cent piece, whose biggest claim to fame is when an absent-minded suspect falls through an uncovered hole in the comic caper. But look carefully --particularly along the Nicollet Mall and on 6th and 7th Streets next to City Center --and you just might step on a piece of art.

In the early 1980s, the Minneapolis Arts Commission oversaw a state-wide competition to design manhole covers. The theme for the competition was "entertainment in Minneapolis." Eleven artists were chosen from over 400 submissions. On the pedestrian-heavy sidewalks you'll see hotdogs cooking on a grill, dancing show girls, martinis, and a longitude and latitude indicator in case you forgot where you're standing.

Kate Burke's cast-iron covers dot the sidewalks from one end of the Nicollet Mall to the other. Installed in 1992 and titled "Hail Minnesota," this sculptor from Pennsylvania chose a variety of natural subjects to represent the state. Elaborate relief carvings portray a swimming walleye and northern pike; a floating loon; a timber wolf peeking out from the brush; a hearty group of lady slippers; a bounty of apples; the leafy foliage of wild rice, corn, wheat, oats; and a Norway Pine's needles and pine cones. Located on the patterned granite sidewalks, the manhole covers are sometimes in groups, and sometimes here and there. Look for a large cluster and the artist's dedication plaque on the west side of the street between South 10th and 11th Streets.

As you casually drift through the streets of Downtown this spring, keep your eyes open and be sure to watch your step -- you wouldn't want to fall in hole or miss a piece of art.

Send your own tips and discoveries to thelunchtimetourist@hotmail.com.

LUNCH TIP: After checking out Burke's sidewalk art, hop over to Key's for a Nicollet Mall Salad. This nearly-30-year-old local favorite is billed as "Minnesota's most awarded family restaurant."