Perry will receive four new art sculptures in honor of the late Dallas Pete VanKirk and Roberta Ahmanson, as well as two sculptures honoring both the agriculture and railroad families. The sculptures give thanks to those who left a mark on Perry by giving the town the opportunity to flourish and develop.
“It’s our thank you - it’s time the community says thank you,” said President of Art on the Prairie, Jenny Eklund.
City Administrator, Sven Peterson, asked Eklund if she would like to take over the project of streets capes for the Perry community. After agreeing, Eklund teamed up with Mary Rose Nichols and reached out to artist John Brommel. In addition, light guru Mike Lambert of KCL Engineering will work alongside Brommel in the project.
“To be able to get these two guys to come to Perry and do what they’re doing - I can’t get over anything because of that,” Eklund said.
Each sculpture will recognize a specific person or general family that has brought out new aspects to Perry. The sculptures will be located on Willis Avenue.
“The one for Pete VanKirk is called “Born of Fire,” and Robert Ahmanson’s is named “The Iowa Girl,” Eklund described.
Each sculpture will take a different appearance, as VanKirk’s sculpture lit up at night will look like hot, molten metal pouring out of the crucible and Ahmanson’s will appear similar to a Frank Lloyd Write art sculpture.
In early June, Eklund approached the City Council about taking on the project.
“Sven and I have been writing grants and we’ve had donations,” Eklund told the city council. “We felt like there was a need for all that Pete has done for our community, that there should be some way of thanking him.”
The VanKirk schedule is set to be finished this summer and Ahmanson’s sculpture will be unveiled during Art on the Prairie weekend in November. Eklund has reached out to Ahmanson, a now-California resident to possibly make the trek out to Perry during the unveiling.
“If you look at the evolution of Perry, Perry is here because of the railroad, we thought the first piece should be that type of art, and we’re asking community members, if they have any railroad items laying around that could be part of the sculpture,” Eklund described.
“Another reason it’s here is because of agriculture and the farmland, so the second piece is going to be geared towards farming and agriculture.”
The sculptures are not necessarily in memory of a specific family, but the sculptures hope to honor the two communities as a whole.
“It’s just going to be absolutely incredible to have that here,” City Administrator, Sven Peterson told the City Council.
The statues will be around 10- to 11-feet tall and Eklund believes it will be a focal point to bringing in more crowds to the Perry area.
“What we’re creating down here - it’s more what you call art that people can relate to easier,” Eklund said. “They respect it a lot and once its lit up, I swear to you that it will be a draw for people coming to our community.”
In the past, VanKirk helped out Eklund with an act of kindness that she hasn’t forgotten.
“When I was working on the caboose, this was when I really didn’t know Pete, all of a sudden he walked in with a checkbook and said he wanted to give me some money to bring back the caboose,” Eklund said.
She refused, but he was persisted. She promised she would pay him back.
“I tried to pay him back with installments and he wouldn’t take my money,” Eklund said. “I said, ‘Pete, someday I will get this back to you and I don’t know how yet.’”
Fast forward a few years and the VanKirk statue is paid for, in full.
“I’ve donated the money that Pete wrote to me to help pay for the first sculpture,” Eklund said. “It feels good to say thanks to Pete and pay the money back in some way.”
The sculptures will cost around $80,000 and both art and financial donations have begun to pour in for the project.
To make a donation, contact Jenny Eklund or Mary Rose Nichols at Mary Rose Collection, 515-465-4222.