Marshalltown’s public art portfolio has grown once again with the delivery and installation of the new sculpture ‘Scherzo,’ which now stands in front of the Marshalltown Performing Arts Center.
The large, intricate structure, designed by Kansas artist Stephen Johnson, was shipped in pieces last week and constructed by Mike Riggs, owner of Lawrence, Kan. based Riggs Fabrication. Johnson was the creative visionary on the project, but Riggs used his background in engineering to determine how to make the idea work structurally.
When he began brainstorming ideas for the sculpture, Johnson knew it had to have some sort of musicality to work for the performing arts center.
“It celebrates musical notation in an abstract way, and that’s kind of, well that’s really kind of my go to, is to take an idea of musical forms, like the bass clef or treble clef, and other kind of forms in musical notation and twist and turn them and abstract them into interesting, playful shapes, ”Johnson said.
He also took inspiration from “Music is…,” which is a children’s book Johnson wrote where he illustrated 10 different musical genres. He said that the book was a journey of taking form and abstraction to celebrate different genres of music and looking at how best to sum them up so everyone could enjoy it, which he compared to the concept for ‘Scherzo.’
“This speaks to the nature of public art,” Johnson said. “Kids would like it and understand it, to art critics, to the general public and people visiting. Visitors, everybody can hopefully see something in it that brings them a bit of joy and they get the concept. ”
Colorful musical notes can be seen around the entire sculpture, representing the music played at the performing arts center, and Johnson also added three stylized mouths at the top to celebrate the spoken word, such as theater or vocal ensembles.
While developing the blueprint, he started with building paper models, cutting out shapes and moving parts as needed, and of course, he collaborated with Riggs to make sure the idea was structurally viable.
After some back and forth between Johnson and Riggs on the piece, eventually, Johnson said, he just “got out of the way,” so Riggs could fabricate the sculpture. The collaboration between them was a highlight for Johnson, and he said working with the community is one of his favorite parts of public art.
“For me, public art is a collaboration. It’s not just me, solo, doing everything, and I love that aspect of it, so there’s a lot of people involved, ”he said.
Even as the sculpture was being constructed on Monday, Johnson said there was an improvisational aspect to it when deciding where exactly to put the pieces and where they would be anchored.
“The installation is just like music, in a sense, or musical chairs. Moving things around, trying to balance the right – the tangent, where they are located, the negative space, the playfulness of it, until we decided that was really where they needed to go, ”Johnson said.
Riggs, who fabricated all the pieces of ‘Scherzo,’ was leading the installation with several other individuals helping him to put it together. He is a manufacturing engineer by education, but he found making the same products repeatedly somewhat dull. So he started working on public art and other artistic pieces.
He said the most challenging part of making ‘Scherzo’ was determining how each piece would work together, working solely off of the paper and cardboard model Johnson provided him.
“I got that 12-inch cardboard model and had to turn it into a 17-foot-tall structure that could bear weight and be structurally sound and still look good,” Riggs said.
Riggs redrew the individual pieces in a computer aided design software and changed a few aspects of the sculpture that wouldn’t work for manufacturing before putting it into his CNC plasma cutter and cutting out the flat shapes.
After several months of work, the pieces were sent to a powder coating company to be painted. Once they were ready to go, all that was left to do was drive it from Kansas to Iowa and construct it.
Marshall County Arts and Culture Alliance Director Amber Danielson was thrilled to have the sculpture installed and to see the culmination of all of the hard work over the last few years.
“I feel like the piece is even better in person,” she said. “The pictures don’t do it justice. The model didn’t give it justice. This piece is just outstanding and so unique and so vibrant. It almost feels as though that piece was always meant to be there and it’s hard to even – though it’s only been up for a few days – imagine that space without it. ”
Danielson said she was excited for Marshalltown High School students to see the growth of public art in the community and on their campus, and she can’t wait for community members to visit the Marshalltown Performing Arts Center to see it for themselves.
This sculpture was made possible through the hard work and fundraising put in by the Marshalltown Auditorium Foundation Partnership Fund, the Marshalltown Community School District and the Arts and Culture Alliance.
Once the sculpture was up, Johnson toured Marshalltown throughout the week and made a special appearance at the Marshalltown Public Library’s weekly Wednesday story time, where some of the children’s books he authored were read. He also held a meet and greet afterwards.
A reveal celebration for the sculpture will be held on Thursday from 5 to 7 pm at the Marshalltown Performing Arts Center, starting with a Chamber ribbon cutting followed by MHS student performances.
Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or