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A man peers this past summer into the enclosed workspace of Masayuki Nagase, who recently finished his second year of working on the Main Street Square sculpture project.

For many summer may end on Labor Day. For me over the past couple of years, summer ends on Oct. 15 when Main Street Square sculptor Masayuki Nagase puts away his tools, removes his protective tent, boards the plane and returns to his home in Berkley, California.

This summer you may have watched him at work drawing and incising his designs on the large granite blocks situated at the Square. Or you may have listened to his Thursday noon-hour talks about his work and plans, or maybe you studied his work when you attended functions at the Square, or watched children playing in the vertical jets of water. Or perhaps you just thought about checking out his stone work, but never did get to it.

Now you have eight months to look at it until his return, or better yet, study his incisions on the granite blocks on the Square’s Main Street side. It’s his interpretation of the effect of water on the gradual carving of the Badlands over eons of time. It’s so, so subtle. Water life, shells, sea grasses, gentle changes mark Nagase’s ideas about water and time — lots of time — in the Badlands.

Nagase said during a discussion at the conclusion of this year’s carving that part of his winter months will be spent developing and refining his ideas for next summer. His work then will move to the Sixth Street granite stones for interpreting the effect of wind on the Black Hills. That’s a topic that may get more feedback from local residents. We’re all personally more familiar with the wind in the Black Hills than we are with the water effect on the Badlands!

I’m looking forward to his return and the fleshed out design plans he will complete over the winter months. But I have a sense that in addition to finalizing the wind plans for the Sixth Street granites, he’ll also be thinking about the tall, vertical towers at the Square’s corner entrance. That’s the most difficult challenge Nagase told his audience just before he left for California.

The sculptor himself will not be in Rapid City until June, but he has left us with educational opportunities and challenges during the intervening months.

One is the placement of local artists in a few elementary schools for short periods of time. The intent is to connect students to new ideas by using the arts to interpret their thoughts. As we know most elementary teachers are not trained to teach art. Some enjoy the arts and want to share that interest with their students but don’t know exactly how to go about visual arts instruction; many are simply not interested. This program is intended to help fill that gap or at least show that there is a way to connect visual arts to the study of other subjects.

A second connection is moving out statewide in a curriculum developed and shared by Rapid City teacher Gabrielle Seeley and is based on Nagase’s sculpture project. It, too, helps students think creatively while using the arts as a technique to bring people together. The curriculum is titled “Oceti Sakowin” meaning “the people of the Seven Council Fires,” which includes the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people. It fits well with the Main Street Square sculpted granites and their ability to bring people together through Nagase’s work.

Yet another extension of this major art project was the “Wind and Water” exhibition that was on display last month at Prairie Edge. This statewide invitational asked committee-selected artists to interpret the theme in their work. They did so, using film, sculpture, paint, paper, fabric, photography and mixed media. A similar exhibition is being discussed for 2016 or ’17 at the conclusion of Nagase’s work at the Square granites.

It’s exciting to see the extent of a single idea followed by the creativity of people not just in Rapid City but spread throughout the Hills, West River and east to the state border with Minnesota. It is our own whirlpool with ever widening ripples.

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Ruth Brennan is the former executive director of the Dahl Arts Center and Rapid City Arts Council, former member of the South Dakota Arts Council and a member of the Black Hills Playhouse board. Contact her at 342-4997 or

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