The story behind Eau Claire’s giant swan made of trash

The story behind Eau Claire’s giant swan made of trash

Photo courtesy of Steve Bateman Sculpture via Facebook

By Kristine Hansen

February 28, 2024

Twenty-one years ago, Steve Bateman created a swan-shaped sculpture out of a surprising medium: trash.

Born out of a Minnesota State Fair competition sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Adopt-a-River program, he liked it so much that he competed another year. Contestants’ art can only be derived from what’s collected during a river clean-up.

Bateman, a Chicago-area native and Minneapolis College of Art & Design grad, trolled the Mississippi River with nationally known conservationist Chad Pregracke of Iowa’s Quad Cities in search of trash that could become treasures. “He’s got this really great crew that organizes river cleanups,” Bateman told us.

Today, the swan’s a major attraction in Eau Claire — where Bateman has resided for 19 years — perched on top of Banbury Place, a commercial business center.  

“I loaded my trailer up a couple of times with the materials we collected. I was living in Alma, Wisconsin, and then I was like ‘What am I going to build?’ There were a lot of white things I found, like giant chunks of foam, a big long pole, a toilet seat,” says Bateman, adding that he also had procured a few black pieces and an orange stop sign that became the swan’s beak. “The trumpeter swan migrates through Alma in the late fall.”

“It was really well received,” says Bateman about the sculpture. “It ended up going to Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan, MN, and then to the state capitol, to an energy festival. I would take it apart and put it back together and it got to be a lot to deal with, so I finally got permission to have it at Banbury Place. It’s been there for 14 years.” Despite slight damage over the years, which required reinforcement, it’s still solid.

Sculptor Reveals The Meaning Behind Eau Claire’s Big Swan Made Of Trash

Photo courtesy of Steve Bateman Sculpture via Facebook

The significance of the sculpture

Bateman strives to create sculptures out of recycled objects (mostly metal) that give viewers a new perspective. With the swan, it could incite a discussion about keeping rivers clean.

I want them to get their own experience with it. You’re looking at it and you’re like ‘Oh wow, that’s cool and really big’ and you get closer and you’re like ‘Is that a toilet seat on there?’” he says. “What it’s made out of is part of the context of what the problem is. It ties back into what it is.”

Sculptor Reveals The Meaning Behind Eau Claire’s Big Swan Made Of Trash

Photo courtesy of Steve Bateman.

Since 2000, Bateman’s created sculpture installations throughout the Midwest. He created a 30-foot-tall wooly mammoth sculpture out of car parts, a boat, and a mini camper for musician Justin Vernon of Bon Iver that is just outside of his recording studio near Eau Claire. Another sculpture, “Bumble Beast,” made out of car parts, has been on the Eau Claire Sculpture Tour for the last two years. Eight years ago, for Blue Ox Music Festival, hosted in Eau Claire every June at Pines Music Park, he built a 30-foot banjo out of barn materials like a wheelbarrow, ladder, and barn siding. It’s on view year-round.

“What I like to do with the sculptures I make is take the materials, usually something recognizable … mostly metal and mostly recycled materials, and create (art),” says Bateman. “I want people to connect with it on an emotional level. I like people to be inspired by it. Maybe it brings some questions, too, and provokes a thought they never had before.”

The swan also inspired Joanne Linden, who lives near Eau Claire, to author “Scrap Metal Swan: A River Clean-Up Story,” a children’s book available on Amazon with illustrations by Estrellita Caracol.

For some, it’s had a major impact. Bateman has heard from a few people who, after they saw it, decided to move to Eau Claire. “Public art adds to the quality of life. It’s how people see somewhere with expression and creativity,” he says.

Sculptor Reveals The Meaning Behind Eau Claire’s Big Swan Made Of Trash

Photo courtesy of Steve Bateman Sculpture via Facebook

Other sculptures around Eau Claire

The swan isn’t the only sculpture in town. Eau Claire is a mecca for art installations. In fact, the city hosts its own annual sculpture tour where new artists roll out their creations each year, and it happens to be the country’s largest rotating sculpture tour.

To take a stroll, check out this handy self-guided map. Several of these sculptures (clocking in at nearly 90) are downtown but also near Banbury Place, in Phoenix Park along the Chippewa River, in Carson Park, and in River Prairie.

Here are a few examples of what’s currently being exhibited as part of the 2023-24 tour and throughout Eau Claire.

“Don’t Wake the Trolls” by Karl Johan Ekroth of PINPIN Studios

The Gothenburg, Sweden, artist collaborated with two local companies (Solar Forma and Artisan Forge Metalworks) to create this highly interactive sculpture celebrating trolls, which are embedded in Scandinavian folklore, a culture shared by many Wisconsinites.

Sculptor Reveals The Meaning Behind Eau Claire’s Big Swan Made Of Trash

Photo courtesy of Sculpture Tour Eau Claire

“Crawdad” by Michael Koeppel

Displaying exquisite, highly detailed carving, the wooden sculpture now has a permanent home outside of Staybridge Suites Eau Claire.

Sculptor Reveals The Meaning Behind Eau Claire’s Big Swan Made Of Trash

Photo courtesy of Sculpture Tour Eau Claire

“When in Doubt, Wear Red” by Gregory Mendez

This sculpture depicting a woman in an ‘80s-style dress first debuted in Fort Wayne, Indiana, last year as part of a celebration honoring the late fashion icon Bill Blass and is now outside of the Albert J. and Judith A Dunlap Cancer Center, part of the Mayo Clinic Health System.

Sculptor Reveals The Meaning Behind Eau Claire’s Big Swan Made Of Trash

Photo courtesy of Sculpture Tour Eau Claire

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.The story behind Eau Claire’s giant swan made of trashThe story behind Eau Claire’s giant swan made of trash

Author

  • Kristine Hansen

    Based in Milwaukee, Kristine Hansen has written about wonders around Wisconsin for TravelandLeisure.com, Fodors.com, NationalGeographic.com and Milwaukee Magazine. She’s also the author of books about Wisconsin’s cheese, agritourism and Frank Lloyd Wright sites.

CATEGORIES: COMMUNITY | LOCAL HISTORY
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