Now gracing the main thoroughfares of Mankato-North Mankato: a huge head of a great horned owl made of steel and willow; two vertical pieces of curved steel standing like puzzle pieces, symbolizing the natural lines of the Minnesota River between Mankato and North Mankato; and a bronze buffalo soldier, paying tribute to the all-black 9th and 10th U.S. Calvary regiments created in 1866.

And that’s just a sampling. A total of 24 sculptures are new to town since June 13. Their arrival marks the ninth installment of the CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour.

We are so relieved that not even a pandemic could stop this outdoor feast for the eyes from returning to the community.

CityArt sculpture

Artist Greg Mueller assembles his sculpture June 13 for the 2020 tour.

Public art has come to be highly valued here. You can see motorists crane their necks as they cross Veterans Memorial Bridge from Mankato to catch Highway 169 north, trying to get a long look at the emerging mural on the 122-foot-tall Ardent Mills silos. From brightly painted electrical boxes and wall murals to poems planted in stone along public pathways, art has added to the richness of spaces around town.

The arrival of the new sculptures is a major component of that equation. For nine years an array of traveling sculptures has been installed here as the weather warms up, drawing gawkers of every age, shape and size to the streets where the work is anchored.

The walk not only is a tourist attraction but also a gift to residents who traipse up and down the cities’ main drags to find their favorite. The most votes for the People’s Choice of every tour is purchased and stays in one of the towns.

This year many artists in the tour have local connections, including a wood chip carver from Garden City, a professor from Minnesota State University, a stained glass artist from Kasota, a former apprentice to sculptor Paul Granlund at Gustavus Adolphus College and metal-working students from Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton. The local talent is deep.

If you haven’t already, set aside recent worries and go for a stroll in downtown Mankato-North Mankato. A world of escape, whimsy and reflection awaits.

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