Restoring a Nicollet Mall landmark

Sculpture Clock Restoration

MINNEAPOLIS -- When Minnesota hosts Super Bowl LII, a downtown Minneapolis landmark will be on full display after a couple years in hiding.

As part of the Nicollet Mall renovation, the Sculpture Clock is being restored. Artist Jack Nelson's Sculpture Clock is one of the last remaining elements from the 1960s design, dedicated in 1968.

When looking at the top, it looks like a traditional street clock; however, below the clock faces hangs a kinetic sculpture.

The Sculpture Clock ran continuously for 34 years but spent more than a decade idle. It stood on the corner of Nicollet Avenue and 11th Street until it was removed in 2015.

A crew spent two days dismantling the sculpture and taking it back to a northeast Minneapolis studio.

"Because it's so complex with moving parts that actually hit one another and are supposed to function, we needed to do quite a bit of historic research. It had also been altered a lot with all the repairs and as conservators, our goal is to return this as closely as possible to the artist's original intent. To what it was like when it first went on the mall," said Kristin Cheronis, a sculpture and object conservator leading the restoration project.

Cheronis is part of a team that includes one other conservator, two clock specialists, a kinetic artist and metal worker. She estimates the project will take about 1,300 work hours.

"There are more than 900 parts just in the sculptural part, not including the four clocks that are up above," she said.

The first step was researching the history of the Sculpture Clock. During their research, they contacted the artist's widow in Syracuse, New York. From there, they discovered Nelson had kept boxes full of papers related to his work. It included some original blue prints of the sculpture's base, as well as supply lists and photos of Nelson creating the clock.

"We consult all of this photo documentation constantly through this process," Cheronis said.

They also found old video footage that showed how the sculpture moved. None of the team members had actually seen the clock when it was still moving.

About 96 percent of the process is conserving and restoring the original pieces. Many of the pieces have suffered from more than a half century of corrosion. Cheronis recalls finding pieces held together with duct tape. Some pieces will have to be recreated.

The project is about halfway complete with some parts moving again. Cheronis expects to reinstall the sculpture back at Nicollet Avenue and 11th Street by the end of August and have the clock running by early September.

It will have an international audience during the Super Bowl in February.

"I'm really going to be proud that it's up and running and it's so clearly interesting. I'm absolutely positive that it will be covered by someone during Super Bowl coverage. It's going to be on television for sure and be enjoyed by therefore millions of people," Cheronis said.

Preserving the clock cost $287,000, according to Public Arts Administrator Mary Altman. $92,948 came from the Arts And Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society. 

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