Between 2006 and 2011, people in seven communities up and down the St. Croix Valley came together to create functional artworks called Art Benches. (This summer, an eighth bench will be built, this one in Osceola.) The benches reflect the unique character of their towns, and express their understanding and appreciation of the St. Croix River and the surrounding area.
They are also a perfect place to have a seat.
The idea behind the Bench Projects is that everyone has a creative spirit. This has included Girl Scouts and 4-Hers, senior citizens and carpenters, high school students and their parents, and many more folks. Everyone and anyone could have a role in the design, construction and installation.
Birds at the Benches
This weekend, a special festival of migratory birds will feature events at each of the Art Benches, kicking off the season and the Art Bench Trail.
There is honestly more happening than you could imagine, thanks to a lot of dedicated volunteers from the Tropical Wings group. Here are some highlights from Saturday:
- Photographing Birds
- Listening to the Birds
- Banding Birds
- Writing Bird Poetry
- Be Kind to Birds
- Birds in your Backyard
- Bird Migration Simulation
There’s also a kick-off celebration with a presentation, poetry, song and more Friday night at The Phipps. Check out the website for all the details.
Anyone who visits an Art Bench will see that each one is unique, beautiful, and conveys how local people fit into the place they call home. But there is an enormous part that isn’t immediately visible: the story of how it was made. You can read about how each one was designed and constructed at the Art Bench Trail website (I wrote the stories).
Here’s an excerpt from the story of Somerset’s bench:
The Apple River rushes through Somerset, carving a a canyon bordered by 100-foot limestone bluffs. Just downstream, it flows into the St. Croix, which forms the western border of the town. The rivers were a major inspiration for the city’s Art Bench, explains Bruce Martell, a local carpenter who guided the project – with help from a local stone company and a bunch of students who don’t often get such opportunities.
Two limestone pillars stand seven feet above the bench’s surface. They represent the Apple, Martell says, and its towering bluffs. A winding ribbon of blue flows across the bench’s surface, representing the meandering St. Croix.
Those rivers were the highways that the French settlers who founded Somerset used in the 1850s. Connecting to that heritage was important for Martell, a descendant of Somerset settlers who homesteaded at the confluence of the Apple and the St. Croix in 1855.
St. Croix 360 will feature the stories over the course of this summer.
Travel the Trail
The benches are great destinations for exploring the St. Croix Valley. A bench is by nature a place to rest and reflect, usually with companions. Residents and visitors are encouraged to “Explore the St. Croix River Valley Bench-By-Bench.” Connected by rural roads perfect for scenic drives or bike rides, the benches are ideal waysides.
The Art Bench Trail website has directions, maps, information about special events at the benches, and more. It also has ideas for creative activities, like poetry, rubbings, and questions to consider and talk about.
Visit all seven benches this summer and upload a photo of your visits at www.artbenchtrail.org/photo-contest/ and you can win tickets to performances at The Phipps and other prizes.
So pack up a picnic, your friends and family, and set off to explore the scenic St. Croix Valley, one beautiful bench at a time.