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'Gaea' returning to downtown Bemidji after decision reversed

Controversial statue returned in exhibit1 / 2
Bemidji City Councilman Roger Hellquist holds open the door to Bemidji City Hall as "Gaea" supporters Mitch Blessing, center, and Kevin McColley carry the sculpture out from City Hall on Tuesday. Bethany Wesley / Forum Communications Co.2 / 2

BEMIDJI, Minn. - Artist Deborah Davis hid her face with a fan created from a copy of the Bill of Rights as the Bemidji City Council made it official: "Gaea" will return to downtown Bemidji.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday night to reverse last week's decision by City Manager John Chattin to remove "Gaea" from its spot at the intersection of Fourth Street Northwest and Beltrami Avenue due to concerns about what was depicted on the abdomen of the beaver.

"I do believe good always wins," Davis said after the meeting, her voice slightly cracking. "But I didn't think I could fight City Hall."

"Gaea" is one of 10 beaver sculptures placed throughout Bemidji. Completed by Davis, it features, on the belly of the beaver, a human figure rising from a sea of pinkish-red circles.

While Davis has said the front of the sculpture shows Mother Earth praying and the circles are roses coming forth from her hands, others have viewed the sculpture differently, seeing, instead, a portion of the female anatomy.

"Gaea" was removed from the Bemidji Sculpture Walk last week at the city's request, prompting an outcry from artists and supporters concerned about censorship.

Those supporters filled the City Hall council chambers Tuesday as they protested the removal of the 4-foot-tall, multicolored sculpture.

With more than 80 people in attendance, there was a standing-room-only crowd of people that spilled out into the entryway after chairs were filled.