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Masayuki Nagase's vision, gradually unfolding in shades of gray granite on Main Street Square, is public art in more ways than one.

This summer, he completed five more stones in his massive achievement, "The Sculpture Project: Passage of Wind and Water," taking him to two-thirds of completing what will be artwork that will be in the public view for as long as granite lasts.

But equally public is the way he works, by allowing people to watch and even talk to him.

Many people come back to check on the progress of his creation, not only throughout the summer, but even over the years Nagase has continued his work.

The visits by passersby are "a great honor for me," Nagase said Monday afternoon, just before a Rapid City resident stopped to check in. "This doesn't happen as much in other places."

He praised Rapid Citians as "very creative. The (visitors) know the progress and the process and are my motivation and encouragement." 

Nagase, who goes by "Yuki," a diminutive of his first name, is right on track to finish the work on the project with 14 of 21 stones complete, five of which were revealed Monday.

Anna Huntington, sculpture project coordinator and Arts Rapid City director, said she and all those closely related to the project are ecstatic with the way it is coming to life. 

"We're all so happy we have the exact right artist creating this work here that will be meaningful for our entire community for generations to come," she said. 

Nagase is set to finish around this time in 2017. He will return to Rapid City next June to carve one of the project's 35-foot-high spires and four additional sculptures along Main Street. 

A summer-of-2015 farewell gathering for the artist will be from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday at Main Street Square, where community members can see the newly revealed stones up close. Refreshments will be served. 

Tyler Read hasn't worked directly alongside Nagase, but has been an instructor in the Rapid City elementary schools through the Teaching Arts Program. 

Nagase gives $15,000 of his commission to keep that Rapid City Arts Council program alive in the elementary schools so artists can teach in the city's classrooms. 

Read said Nagase's commitment to be in the Rapid City community was a big reason he was chosen for the project. 

"He's a really genuine guy," Read said, "and I enjoyed the time I did get to spend with him." 

The sculpture has universal appeal because it's an abstract work of art, and it tells the narrative of the natural and cultural history of the area, Huntington said.

Because it is very different from existing public art in Rapid City, she added, she is hopeful it will inspire a new direction in the community.

"He's making this project useful and at the service of the community in a way that we haven't really thought about — of art being a tool for community building in the way this project has been," Huntington said. 

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. 

Work on the $2 million project began in 2013 and is funded through a partnership with Destination Rapid City and the John T. Vucurevich Foundation. 

The "wind" of the project tells the story of the Badlands, the "water" symbolizes the Black Hills, and where the two meet represents the intersection of the area's dominant features.

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Contact Emily Niebrugge at 394-8419 or emily.niebrugge@rapidcityjournal.com

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