Passages is a grouping of four rectangular columns prominently placed between the Family Museum and the Bettendorf Public Library on Learning Campus Drive. The column closest to the library lies flat on the ground. In sequence, the other three stand angled at 45 degrees, 67 degrees, and finally fully vertical. The effect of these 18-foot-tall, stainless-steel columns rising in a stop-motion progression is impressive.
Yet what ultimately catches one's attention is the brightly painted sphere perched precariously at the top of the standing column. An area the size of the sphere has been scooped out of the other columns. These smooth inverse curves are painted in the same bright colors as the sphere - yellow, red, and green - and visually soften the angular metal impact of the sculptural group. They feel like a finger's indent in a stick of butter. The positioning of these indents creates an illusion of an upward trajectory or path that the sphere has taken.
In a 1998 interview months before Passages was installed in Bettendorf, artist Matt Kargol explained: "Each column represents a stage in life. Each event leaves its mark on a person, and we also leave our mark on it." Kargol conceived, designed, and constructed these metal works - working 10-hour days cutting, welding, and polishing his sculpture over a series of months - while he was a graduate student at the University of Northern Iowa.
The sculptural shapes over the nearby entrance to the library are also brightly colored, creating a lively relationship between Kargol's sculpture and the rising forms over the entrance. It's not just the colors, but the geometric forms and their sense of movement.
Though Passages and the library's entrance command our attention, a walk around the library's perimeter reveals other artworks. Some stand in the open, such as Gary Patterson's seven-foot-tall chainsaw carving of the Cat in the Hat reading to the surrounding garden.
Others need to be discovered. One of these, on the ground behind a low wall in a small alcove, is a cement sculpture by Isabel Bloom of a woman with a book. The abstracted simplicity of the woman's seated pose conveys a calmness and serenity, not unlike a sculpture of the Buddha. A separate sculpture of a small child listening raptly is placed before the woman. The works capture a moment when the woman seems paused in her reading or is showing an illustration, and the relationship between the separate figures is beautifully conveyed. This set was commissioned by the library in 1960 and was initially placed at the entrance of the Bettendorf Library when it was located at 2211 Grant Street.
Rather than listing other artworks, I encourage you to walk around the library, through its interior, and through the the Family Museum to discover these pieces yourself. Collectively, this is perhaps the most varied and (surprisingly) extensive collection of works by area artists in the Quad Cities.
Bruce Walters is a professor of art at Western Illinois University.
This is part of an occasional series on the history of public art in the Quad Cities. If there's a piece of public art that you'd like to learn more about, e-mail the location and a brief description to BD-Walters@wiu.edu.