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It's a work in progress, but "A Passage of Wind and Water" is already shaping up to be an essential piece of the Rapid City puzzle.

The artwork is part of The Sculpture Project, an attempt to complete architect Dean Rundell's original plans for Main Street Square by turning the 21 granite pieces surrounding the square into large-scale outdoor sculptures in the Black Hills tradition. 

The $2 million commission is funded through a partnership with Destination Rapid City and the John T. Vucurevich Foundation. "It's a way to connect Main Street Square to the region's rich history," said Anna Huntington, Sculpture Project coordinator and Arts Rapid City director.

Huntington said that the project would be easy to connect with because it's part of what they refer to as "the community's living room."

"You can walk right up to it and touch it," Huntington said. "There's no barriers to access. And it's still a work in progress that's being made on site instead of in the studio, which is unusual. Here the artist is carving in town in the summer and you can see him at work and talk to him about his process and design."

That artist is Masayuki Nagase, or "Yuki," a world-renowned sculptor born and raised in Japan and trained at the Tokyo Academy of Fine Art. Yuki uses traditional Japanese hand tools for carving stone and has worked as an artist for over 30 years. 

"There's so many reasons Yuki is right for this, and we're continually surprised with more," Huntington said. "He's humble, he's committed to making his design a story of our community, the history, the landscape and people here."

Huntington said that after he was chosen for the project in 2012, Yuki held a community design workshop in 2013, where he got input about feelings and connections to nature in Rapid City.

This became the heart of his design, which he began sculpting in 2013 and continued in 2014. This will be his third year working on the project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2017.

In the meantime, Rapid City residents can watch as Yuki chips away at stones (albeit with a safety barrier to keep them from flying off and hitting people), and his studio will be open to visit every Thursday for an "Art Lunch."

In addition, the project has already inspired work from other artists in the area. Sara Olivier of the Academy of Dance Arts approached Yuki to collaborate by creating performances that include dance, music and film, all inspired by his work.

The performance, "Echoing Passages," will be held at the Performing Arts Center of Rapid City on July 10. Admission is free.

Yuki has also found a way to give back to the community with the Teaching Artists Program, which brings artists to elementary schools to teach schoolchildren. It has reached 200 students and will build a sustainable arts education program in every Rapid City elementary school.

"He believes that that's an important part of elementary education," Huntington said. "And he gave up part of his fee to make it happen. It was built and implemented solely through his generosity."

The stones themselves will be made from two different types of granite quarried within 500 miles of Rapid City, a reddish brown along Main Street and gray around 6th Street. The "wind" element will tell the story of the Badlands, while "water" will represent the Black Hills. Where they intersect is "where the Black Hills and Badlands intersect."

"It's a truly human-scale work in the making," Huntington said. 

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Contact Max B. O'Connell at 394-8427 or max.oconnell@rapidcityjournal.com

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