Dutch artists to erect 25-foot-loon at famous ‘Burning Man’ festival
A famous, bigger-than-life Otter Tail County loon is taking flight, from the sky blue waters of Minnesota to the desert sands of Nevada.
This isn’t a relocation of the iconic Vergas loon statue. Actually, it might be considered the third most-famous loon of the lakes area–but will almost certainly be the most prominent big bird in the Black Rock Desert Northwest of Reno from now to Labor Day.
The story of the wood constructed, 25-foot-tall loon is a twisting and turning tale that spans the Atlantic Oceon from Pelican Lake to the Netherlands–
and southwest to the famous “Burning Man” festival in Nevada.
For the many of us initiated to the peculiar, three-decade “Burning Man” tradition, it might be described as a “Woodstock” celebration of art, culture
and music–minus the mud, muck, mire and rain.
As many as 70,000 will lay eyes on the immense interpretation of the loon.
For many, it will be their first exposure to Minnesota’s state bird.
Water being a precious resource in the middle of the Black Rock Desert, this loon will endure an ecosystem far removed from its environmental comfort zone here in the land of 10,000 lakes.
To summarize the story of the loons point by point:
• Pelican Lake resident Dirk Lenthe commissioned a pair of Dutch sculpture artists to create a distinct loon sculpture.
• Lenthe is an art enthusiast, who had a vision of a massive loon, perched on a bluff overlooking Pelican Lake.
• Artists Thijs Trompert and Marisja Smit went to work, in Holland, to attain Lenthe’s vision. The end result is a stunning, steel and stainless steel sculpture of a loon with its wings spread. The sculpture is almost certainly the largest loon on the planet, since it actually exceeds the height of the Vergas loon by five feet. It is ten feet taller than the “World’s Largest Pelican” in Pelican Rapids.
• To visualize the loon sculpture, and how it would appear on the landscape along the southeast shore of Pelican Lake, Lenthe asked the artists to build a similarly-sized loon “prototype” from plywood and lumber. The wood version was propped on the bluff of Lenthe’s property, and photographed from various angles.
• The next challenge for Lenthe was to win approval from Otter Tail County.
Land use officials and planning and zoning members had never encountered anything like it. The proposed loon sculpture did not meet several provisions in the zoning ordinance–including setback and height restrictions in a shoreland and bluff zone.
• On Oct. 12, 2017, the Otter Tail Board of Adjustment defeated the varience request by a 4-1 vote. Lenthe’s artistic vision collided, unsuccessfully, with the cold, hard ralities of government regulation.
• Lenthe didn’t give up, however. He appealed the the county’s decision in District Court. The hearing was July 16. A ruling is still pending.
• The steel loon sculpture–which was shipped trans-Atlantic from the Netherlands to the midwest, is presently in storage in Fargo. There, it awaits its artistic destiny, and final destination.
• Meanwhile, Dutch artists Smit, Trompert, and their associate Ide Koffeman unhatched a scheme to fly from Holland to Minnesota; pack the wood prototype loon on a trailer; and scrounge a roadworthy rig capable of hauling the freight all the way to Nevada for “Burning Man.”
That is, if the 1978 Chrysler RV unit with the finicky carburetor survives the journey. They found the rig in Park Rapids, and almost immediately found themselves under the hood–wielding monkey wrenches and screwdrivers. “We’re quite resourceful,” said Trompert, with a smile of total confidence.
“We’ve always wanted to go to Burning Man…when we got tickets, we asked Dirk if we could bring the loon,” said Smit.
“There is a whole network of artists coming…The loon will be our camp symbol.”
Smit and Trompert, who obsessively labored 70 hours a week for 36 weeks on the steel loon sculpture, are accustomed to adversity.
They created a sculpture of a bull, entirely from discarded and recycled scrap wood, for a city square in their home town of Amersfoort, Holland.
Unfortunately, “a band of rascals” torched the artwork under cover of darkness, and it burned into ashes, said Trompert.
“The community really embraced the bull…They were very angry about the burning bull. They said ‘we want our bull back,’” recalled Trompert. The city government decided that the artists should rebuild a bull for the town. “If we rebuild it in wood, somebody will set it on fire again…so we said, lets build it out of steel so it is indestructible.”
Today, the enourmous steel bull, large enough for an entire soccer team to pose for photographs beneath its belly, stands proudly in Amersfoort, Holland.
The bull was, in part, an inspiration for Lenthe to commission Smit and Trompert for his steel loon–an artistic creation that is second most-famous loon in the Otter Tail lake country.
As for the third, most-famous loon in Otter Tail, the wood prototype was rising from the desert sands of the “Burning Man” festival as this edition of the Press went to the printers. The loon will serve as an iconic “signpost” for an artist encampment on the Burning Man grounds, through the duration of the event.
The loon will be a “fish out of water” on the barren Nevada landscape.
But by the time “Burning Man” ends on Labor Day, Sept. 3; some 70,000 artists, musicians and participants from around the world will come to recognize Minnesota’s state bird: The common loon…in very uncommon surroundings.
What is “Burning Man” and what on earth is a Pelican Lake loon doing there?
Burning Man 2018 is August 26 – September 3 in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Participants join in the effort to co-create Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis dedicated to art and community.
Rising above the bustling mini-metropolis of artists and visitors from around the world will be a wooden loon sculpture–shipped from Pelican Lake to Nevada by a trio of Dutch artists. It’s a city wherein almost everything that happens is created entirely by its citizens, who are active participants in the experience.
Though a vastly oversimplified explanation, “Burning Man” is a gathering inspired by the the 1960s “hippies.”
The late summer event is described as an experiment in community and art, influenced by ten main principles: “radical” inclusion, self-reliance, and self-expression, as well as community cooperation, civic responsibility, gifting, de-commodification, participation, immediacy, and leaving no trace. The event takes its name from its culmination, the symbolic ritual burning of a large wooden effigy (“the Man”).
First held 32 years ago in 1986 on Baker Beach in San Francisco as a small function organized by Larry Harvey and Jerry James who built the first Man,” it has since been held annually.