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Masayuki Nagase admits he was more than a little surprised to be chosen over four other finalists to sculpt Main Street Square's 21 granite spires.

"Honestly telling, I was very surprised," Nagase said Friday in Rapid City.

On earlier visits to the area, he took note of its other public art and wondered if his style would appeal to people here. 

"I saw some art in the public space that was very different from what I do. They are super-figurative and mine is more abstract, so I really didn't think that I would be chosen," he said.

But Nagase's "The Sculpture Project: Passage of Wind and Water" won out over 87 original applicants for the multi-year, $2 million sculpting project. His work was praised by the sculptor selection committee for its "uncommon purity" and its timeless beauty.

People can meet the 63-year-old Berkley, Calif., sculptor — who goes by the nickname Yuki — and see what he has planned for the popular public space in downtown Rapid City during a public reception from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday. The event, which also includes a small exhibit of his work, was postponed by Friday's snowstorm.

"I'm using metaphors of water and wind, my main themes for this project. My main theme is really the nature of the region," he said.

Sculpted in relief onto the various spires will be images of wind and grass and powerful energy surges — representative of both the geographic and social forces in the area. There will be animals — prehistoric and modern — and other images symbolic of both the  Badlands and the Black Hills.

Nagase said the MSS pieces should not be compared to other large-scale public art in the region.

"I'm not comparing my project to other projects like, you know, Mount Rushmore or the presidents statues," he said. "They want something different. They already have some of these other things. They don't want to repeat."

What the community wants to see in the square promises to be part of Nagase's artistic process, he said. Later this month, he begins a series of community workshops in Rapid City and the region — including some on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The schedule hasn't been finalized, but he expects to hold them at community sites such as senior citizen centers, YMCAs and schools.

"I can introduce what's going on and what will happen. I'll ask them what's really important to them about the nature in this region,"  he said.

In the end, he hopes Rapid City residents will feel "re-connected with the idea of nature" as well as a sense of ownership whenever they visit Main Street Square.

He's observed the ways families, young people and others use the square and he feels a responsibility to include their ideas — and even their handprints — in the finished work. Looking closely at the artwork proposed for the two large spires, he sees they are filled with handprint images that will belong to local people, he said.

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"In these spiral patterns, I propose to design elements of flora and fauna in abstracted forms within a larger flowing pattern of handprints that will be taken from the community. The handprints represent the overall community’s aspirations and hopes for the future of your region," Nagase said in his design proposal.

"It's really about the local community. I'm not talking about tourists. Tourists, of course, come here, but it's really important, first, for the community," he said of the square. "I'd like to facilitate that sense of ownership."

He estimates it will take him between three and five years to complete the work, and Nagase hopes to become a part of the Rapid City community, at least for four months at a time, in the coming years.

In 2013, he'll spend the summer months in Rapid City, but in future years that may change to the spring or fall, he said.

He laughs at the idea that he might tire of the project before he's done. Community input, he said, promises to keep the work fresh.

"That's why it's important to have community input, to have fresh wind. You don't get fixated on just one old idea," he said.

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Contact Mary Garrigan at 394-8424 or mary.garrigan@rapidcityjournal.com

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