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Colleen Sheehy, Published January 25 2014

Letter: Steps are being taken to conserve ‘Sodbuster’

I’m excited about the progress signaled by the public art task force, established this month by the city of Fargo’s commissioners, and thank Melissa Sobolik for her leadership on this issue. As a public official, she is responding to the significant desire expressed by residents for more public art during the development of Go2030, the new Comprehensive Plan. We have a lot of opportunity to increase the vitality, sociability and beauty of our public spaces and create more places to gather and enjoy our community.

I want to respond to queries to let people know that the sculpture by Luis Jimenez, “Sodbuster,” has not disappeared, and plans are underway to restore it and return it to public view. Gifted to Plains Art Museum by the city, which originally commissioned it, the museum was working with Jimenez himself on a conservation plan, which he was going to carry out, when he was tragically killed in an accident in his studio in New Mexico. That suspended for some time our ability to move this project forward.

To respond to public interest in this piece, in summer 2012 the museum displayed the damaged sculpture as the centerpiece of an exhibition on the artwork and Jimenez. The exhibition helped to educate visitors about why the piece needs to be conserved. Its finish is worn away in many places from weather damage and the hands of many art lovers, who loved it too well. We also engaged an art conservator, who came to Fargo to examine it in person and to provide a plan for its conservation. We also began talking to experts in the North Dakota State University Department of Polymers and Coatings about working with us on the final coating to protect the piece.

The good news is that “Sodbuster” can be conserved, and we are now taking steps to apply for grants that would help to meet those costs.

Is it worth conserving? We believe it is. “Sodbuster” is the first public commission of Jimenez, an artist whose sculptures now stand outside the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., the Denver International Airport, and in other major cities. Jimenez is a significant American artist of Latino heritage. We also learned from the conservator that our sculpture is the first fiberglass sculpture in the history of American art.

“Sodbuster” is a treasure for our city. Through public discussions and visitor feedback during the exhibition, we learned that many people are very emotionally connected to this work of art. Like other great works of public art, it is a symbol of our history, our identity and our pride. Many people have fond memories of the sculpture as part of their lives and childhoods.

If you want to join us in The Return of “Sodbuster,” please contact me at Plains Art Museum. We are eager to restore it and return it to a place of honor as part of the city’s public art plan.

Sheehy is director and CEO, Plains Art Museum, which is located in downtown Fargo.