New public art pieces to land on Beacon’s Bluff

The proposed sculpture by East Sider Philip Blackburn, titled “the Pendulum Beacon,” could end up on public land at Beacon Bluff next spring. (submitted photo)

When brainstorming for a new art installation at the Beacon Bluff site, East Side artist Philip Blackburn’s first question was: “Where’s the beacon?”

And indeed it’s true, there is no beacon to speak of at the former 3M manufacturing site, which is now owned by the St. Paul Port Authority.

But Blackburn’s project should change that. He plans to install what he calls “a next generation beacon” along the public path at the St. Paul Port Authority’s development zone.

Funded by the Port Authority and the East Side Arts Council, Blackburn is hoping to install his 30-foot-tall teepee-shaped artwork, titled “the Pendulum Beacon” next spring.

He’s already drawn out rough plans for the thing, but recently received a $5,000 grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council to take a look at the piece from an engineering standpoint.

“Blackburn received funding ... to collaborate with specialized experts as well as a significant period of model building, prototyping, durability and safety testing,” a statement from the MRAC reads.

So what exactly is it?

“The Pendulum Beacon” will be made of utility poles forming a teepee shape. Within that shape there will be a number of swinging pendulums. The pendulums will swing via solar power and will be made to look like wild grass blowing in the wind.

Since they’ll all be set at different fulcrums, they’ll swing at different lengths and “go in and out of phase,” Blackburn said, forming geometrical patterns.

The rods will be “moving back and forth like a perpetual motion machine,” he said.

Crowning the teepee structure will be a reflective cone-shaped prism, which will represent a beacon. “Instead of being a beacon that gives off light, it gives off the light of the environment,” Blackburn explained.

Blackburn hopes the project will provide a visually appealing respite for anyone traveling through the public path, which connects East Seventh Street with the Bruce Vento Regional Trail.

East Seventh Street, Minnehaha Avenue and Duluth Street border the Beacon Bluff development site. One business, the new East Side Family Clinic, opened up shop in April on one of the lots there.

A long-time East Sider

This is not Blackburn’s first public art endeavor.

He’s done numerous projects, including the marimba benches at the Payne-Phalen Poetry Park, but most of the others have been temporary.

The grant Blackburn received from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council will help him make sure that his plan is structurally sound to be a permanent piece, by consulting with an engineer.

This application of an MRAC grant is unique in that it’s a sophisticated project requiring engineering input, said Greg Nielsen, a program director at MRAC.

Blackburn has “a long connection with the East Side of St. Paul, not just as a resident but as someone involved with the community,” Nielsen added. Blackburn has been involved with the East Side Arts Council for years.

Sarah Fehr, executive director at ESAC, said her organization is excited about the project and the prospect of bringing new art into the neighborhood.

She said the St. Paul Port Authority’s Monte Hilleman sought out her organization’s input from the get-go to make sure the Beacon Bluff development has public art. Hilleman is in charge of the Port Authority project.

Fehr said there will be a second piece of art done nearby, representing rainfall as part of a storm water collection demonstration. There will be meetings to seek community input about the art projects in the fall, she added.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at

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