Roundabout art: Lansing considers temporary sculpture to replace broken red balls


In time for the winter solstice, a golden sun might rise soon on the traffic roundabout a block east of the state Capitol.

A 12-foot-tall figure by Lansing metal sculptor Bob Welton in his studio, called Iron on the Move, that was created for Scrapfest is being considered for temporary installation at the highly visible traffic hub.

“Sundance” is a stainless steel figure with a sun for a head. The sun, made of yellow brass brazed onto a steel ring, rotates freely within the ring as the wind blows. All of the metal is repurposed.

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor and his family saw it at Old Town’s Scrapfest 11 in July, where it was entered in the Large Sculpture category.

“We thought it was really cool, and we’re trying to figure out what to do in that space, as the holiday season comes,” Schor said.

In recent years, the roundabout has turned into a Bermuda Triangle for public art, swallowing up four proposed pieces and one physical one.

Each holiday season since 2009, not long after the intersection was turned into a roundabout, a set of four large red ornaments — often called “Virg’s red balls,” in honor of former Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero — were erected there. In December of last year, a hit-and-run driver crashed into one of the balls, cracking the easternmost ball open like a giant egg.

Meanwhile, a drive to put a permanent, major piece of public sculpture in the roundabout, spearheaded by a $100,000 contribution from the Capitol Region Community Foundation, foundered in 2018 when four proposed designs drew widespread criticism. That project is on hold until more money can be raised to draw a higher-quality art.

“What I’d like is something permanent in that space, but we’re not there yet,” Schor said. He said the Mayor’s Arts and Culture Commission is looking into the best way to pick a permanent installation, and he wants a public art committee to be involved.

“We’re just trying to figure out what to put there in the meantime rather than have a blank space,” Schor said.

Welton is delighted at the prospect of “Sundance” doing a star turn so close to the Capitol, even temporarily.

“You’re always happy when something is sold and placed, but when it goes in a public place, it just really makes you happy,” he said.

Welton doesn’t lack for ideas. He has entered his work in all 11 Scrapfests. But this year’s sculpture was a late bloomer.

“Usually, every time I walk into that scrapyard, I have two or three ideas,” he said. “This time, I was kind of spinning my wheels.”

But it was sunny day. He looked down at the scrap he gathered that day and back up at the sun.

“I thought, ‘I know exactly what I’m going to do. I’m going to build the sun.’ Everybody likes sunshine. It makes people feel happy.”

It took him about 32 hours to put it together.

In early September, Welton took his creation to the roundabout and set it up for Schor and others to see how it looked.

“If you look down Michigan Avenue, with the Capitol in the background, it was mind-blowing,” Welton said. “It really accented the view. I hope they go through with it. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”

Schor said the piece costs about $6,000.

“I have to figure out where the money is going to come from, whether I’m going to buy it myself or what,” he said. “Nothing is really finalized.”


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