Every town contains layers of information and history. Those living in Grinnell today have an image of Grinnell as it is now. Long-time residents might remember a building now gone, or the people who used to live in a neighborhood but moved away. Those memories are part of local knowledge and form an invisible structure carried within daily lives.
In Grinnell Crossroads, Walter Hood sought to bring some of those memories into the physical present. On a series of exploratory walks conducted by his staff in fall 2016, he led students, campus employees, and Grinnell residents down alleys and along unexpected routes from campus to town, and vice versa. Along the way, the “guides” asked probing questions about things often ignored or taken for granted. Who uses the alleys? Why do so many houses have “barns” behind them? Why are some alleys better maintained? Why aren’t there more pedestrians in town?
Their fascination with Grinnell’s history led them to do research. Some people remember a crowded and cluttered gas station on the corner of Highway 146 and Highway 6, but few people know there were once two homes on this lot. Grinnell one hundred years ago was a very different place: no cars, a real need for barns and carriage houses, and, a greater variety of business. In other ways, it would be quite familiar: a college town, a home to professors and shopkeepers alike, and a crossroads for people moving through north to south, east to west by railway and road.
For the artist, the concept of a crossroads stood out, both literally at this site, and metaphorically as a locus of crisscrossing memories. He designed a place where people can pause, remember what was once on this spot, think about the traffic moving past, and mark a moment in time. Grinnell Crossroads adds a new path to move through town, and a space to pause and reflect.
Hood’s wooden structure recalls some of the walls and windows that stood here, references local construction practices, and creates an overall sculptural identity. It’s both a work of art and a park, a marker for a corner where some people turn to go to the College, and others turn to head out of town. Grinnell Crossroads has enough presence to raise the question, “what is it?” Good art bears a closer look. Intriguing from a car, it is also intended to be explore up close and its diagonal wood panels break up the jumble of poles, signs, and signal posts that define a contemporary crossroads. He deciphered memories to make an empty corner memorable.
Timeline of events
President Raynard Kington learns of Walter Hood’s work creating community spaces and proposes that Grinnell do a project with Hood Design Studio. The Grinnell College project team (Monica Chavez, Mike Burt, Larry Gleason, Sarah Smith, Rick Whitney, and Lesley Wright), begins work.
Walter Hood and Hood Design Studio visit Grinnell for 2 days and conduct several exploratory walks between the community and campus.
Walter Hood returns to Grinnell to present his initial idea for Grinnell Jewels, which is well received by campus and community audiences.
Hood proposes a new idea called Grinnell Guardians. This concept does not move forward.
Hood continues to develop the original Grinnell Jewels inspiration.
Using the originally proposed three-dimensional steel grid, design continues, until a trade war with China drives up the price of steel, putting the construction into question.
Hood presents his final design of Grinnell Crossroads based on a painted metal grid. However, due to the ongoing trade war with China, and the increased interest in celebrating quintessential Midwest building materials, Hood’s team begins to explore wood as an option instead of steel.
Hood proposes a detailed version in Alaskan yellow cedar, shifting from a grid to a diamond pattern. This design continues to evolve through the summer to focus on shadow, depth, and the pedestrian experience.
Grinnell College plants trees on the south and east sides of the lot.
Late Fall 2019
The sculpture’s final design is confirmed.
Fabrication begins in San Francisco at One Hat One Hand on the wooden cedar panels and underlying support structure.
Site work begins for Grinnell Crossroads.
Grinnell Crossroads is installed and landscaped.
Installing the Work
Crossroads by Walter Hood at the corner of highway 146 and highway 6, July 7, 2020. (Justin Hayworth/Grinnell College)