Artist takes sculpture from Iowa City to Nome

IOWA CITY, Iowa — In a few days, local artist John Coyne will begin a long trip — almost 4,000 miles by truck, ferry and plane — with his latest work in tow.


Coyne is set to begin the journey Saturday with a nearly 2,000 mile drive from Iowa City to Bellingham, Wash. From there, he will hop a 750-mile ferry ride to Haines, Alaska, then drive an additional 750-plus miles west to Anchorage. Finally, he will take an air freight more than 500 miles to Nome, Alaska.

Accompanying Coyne, 48, on the journey will be four handmade crates containing 16 pieces — 40 to 50 pounds each — of cast aluminum alloy.

When the puzzle pieces come together in Nome, they will compose a sculpture — 47 feet long and 10 feet tall — portraying six migrating caribou atop a base containing images of Alaskan and Eskimo artifacts.

While Coyne, a native of Fairbanks, Alaska, is no stranger to metal casting, even he admitted that his latest project was quite arduous.

“This is by far and away the most ambitious project I’ve ever taken on, on every level,” Coyne said last week at his studio at the north end of Reno Street.

After visits to Nome and its surrounding villages for inspiration in April, Coyne returned to Iowa City and began building the molds in May.

The sculpture was chosen as one of three art projects to adorn Norton Sound Health Corp., a 15,000-square-foot facility slated to be complete in November 2013.

Nick Francis, hospital project manager, said Coyne’s work, which will displayed on the hospital’s first floor, was chosen from nearly 30 applicants due to the project’s sturdiness.

“One of the reasons that (Coyne) was selected was that it was different and we felt that it was in a high traffic area and we felt the medium was more durable than other types of art,” Francis said.

Norton Sound Health Corp. provides secondary care, including dental, physical therapy and outpatient services, to 20 Alaskan villages — all of which are represented on the base of Coyne’s sculpture.

A native of Alaska, Coyne has had an influence on Iowa City art since the late 1980s, most notably crafting street sign toppers in the Goosetown and Northside neighborhoods, plaques along the North Marketplace Literary Walk and Lemme Elementary’s bronze leopard cub statue, the school’s mascot.

Marcia Klingaman Bollinger, Iowa City neighborhood services coordinator, described Coyne as an artist who will take on any project.

“(Coyne) has never-ending enthusiasm and a knowingness to consider even the impossible,” Klingaman Bollinger said.

Although Coyne moved back to his home state early last year, he made the decision to craft his caribou sculpture in Iowa City due in large part to his previous experience working with Lisbon welder Sam Stark, his brother-in-law Blue, and Steve Maxon at the Kalona foundry Max-Cast Inc., which poured all 16 of Coyne’s molds.

“There’s no other way I could have gotten this thing done without those people,” Coyne said. “That’s one of the reasons I like working in Iowa because there’s a certain proficiency and a certain work ethic.”

While Coyne said he plans to continue his life in Anchorage after the completion of his latest project, Klingaman Bollinger said she wouldn’t be surprised if the local arts community sees another Coyne project in the future.

“I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of him,” Klingaman Bollinger said.


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