Loch Ness Monster sculpture mysteriously appears in Chippewa RiverIt's an enchanting mystery and point of conversation for the local arts community, but the law sees a sculpture of a friendly monster to be an obstruction in the Chippewa River.
By: By Andrew Dowd, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis., Superior Telegram
It's an enchanting mystery and point of conversation for the local arts community, but the law sees a sculpture of a friendly monster to be an obstruction in the Chippewa River.
Appearing in the past couple of weeks, the sculpture is in the shape of the Loch Ness Monster, a creature nicknamed Nessie that is reputed to live in a deep Scottish lake.
The sculpted Eau Claire version pokes above the river just north of the Madison Street bridge in Eau Claire.
"It's happening more and more, guerilla installations like this," said Jason Lanka, a UW-Eau Claire assistant art professor. "It's a crossover from a graffiti tradition."
While spontaneous public art displays are more common in metropolitan areas with bigger art communities, Lanka said they are an easy way for artists anywhere to spur conversation about their work.
However, the state Department of Natural Resources views the sculpture as an illegal obstruction in the river.
"Through some means, this obstruction will need to be removed to ensure the public's safety and to meet the standards of state law," Dan Baumann, acting director for the DNR's West Central Region, said in an email.
State laws require DNR approval for any structure that stands below the ordinary high-water mark on all navigable streams, he said.
The artist behind the sculpture has not come forward or signed the work, but Baumann said the DNR wants the owner to remove it before the DNR does so.
So far there hasn't been a big demand from the public to have it removed. Prior to Tuesday the DNR hadn't heard about the sculpture, and city police had not received any bad reviews of the art.
"We haven't had any calls or complaints," said Eau Claire police spokesman Kyle Roder.
The police also don't know who put the sculpture in the river or when.
The university's sculpture instructor, Lanka said the river sculpture appeared to be made from cement poured into custom molds to form the body, head and tail. A red stone serves as an eye, and holes with plastic piping in them allow river water to pass through the body of the beast.
Based on the monster's friendly look and a wood-carved giant rabbit head that appeared late last year in the same spot, Lanka said the works are associated with kitsch and pop culture.
"It's interesting. It's kinda cool," he said.
With just two pieces to consider, Lanka said the meaning of the art cannot be ascertained, but it could be as simple as spurring a conversation about art.
Benny Haas, owner of downtown art supply store Benny HaHa, 204 S. Barstow St., agreed that the monster could have been planted just to spur a discussion of the arts in a public forum.
"It's getting us to have the conversation," he said. "I do love the arts being pushed and embraced throughout our community."
Haas, a promoter of the Eau Claire Sculpture Tour, said the monster's appearance is unrelated to the sanctioned sculpture tour, which begins its second year next week with the installation of 31 new works along downtown streets and outside Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire.
Haas first spotted the sculpture Tuesday morning while driving his son to school. It reminded the two of a fallen log on Long Lake that had been painted a few years ago to resemble a sea serpent.
The appearance of sea monsters in art could be a reflection of childhood stories told about creatures swimming in Wisconsin waterways, Haas said.
Chad Lewis, author of several books of strange tales and an Eau Claire-based paranormal investigator, said he's collected reports of aquatic beasts sighted years ago from about three dozen Wisconsin lakes, but never anything specific to Eau Claire.
He's been told very vague stories about a serpent in the Chippewa River, but Lewis never heard a first-hand account or any evidence to back them up.
"Over the years I jokingly called it 'Chippy,' " he said of the rumored river monster.
Lewis has collected newspaper accounts from the early 20th century of a large swordfish caught on the Eau Claire River and a large black snake reported on Water Street.
"We do have some accounts of weird things being in the river from the past," he said.
Dowd can be reached at 715-833-9204, 800-236-7077 or email@example.com.
(c)2012 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)
Visit the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.) at www.leadertelegram.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services