After traveling the circuit of regional sculpture walks, including Park Rapids’ own, a beloved sculpture has found its permanent home at Deane Park.

Al Belleveau of Puposky delivered his artwork "Ant-Venture" on Saturday, June 5, on the point at the end of Eagle Pointe Drive, a detached section of the park that also has a cookout grill and a dock on Fish Hook Lake.

Anchored in the grassy turf, the sculpture made of steel rods twisted around stones depicts an anthill, complete with a queen ant coming out of the hole at the top of the mound and a teacher ant pointing to a chalkboard inside.

There’s also an opening on one side large enough to allow visitors to step inside the sculpture and explore the intricate design, the varieties of rock and the shifting shadows cast by the sun.

“It was originally commissioned by the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum down in the Cities, when they were doing a show on things that live underground,” said Belleveau. “I like ants. I’ve studied ants for years. And I proposed making an anthill, which is what this is in my particular style, which is rock-iron art – which is wrapping steel rods around stones in order to capture them, so that, then, I can weld them into various other sculptures.”

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Belleveau prepares to fix 'Ant Venture' to the ground using spiral anchor stakes. As his need for a jack, a drill and a saw suggests, the operation proved tricky due to the hardness of the ground not far beneath the soft turf. (Robin Fish/Enterprise, June 5, 2021)
Belleveau prepares to fix 'Ant Venture' to the ground using spiral anchor stakes. As his need for a jack, a drill and a saw suggests, the operation proved tricky due to the hardness of the ground not far beneath the soft turf. (Robin Fish/Enterprise, June 5, 2021)

Door to a fascinating world

The ants’ entrance to the anthill is at the top, but Belleveau explained why there’s an arch-shaped opening on the side as well: Being wheelchair accessible was a condition required by the arboretum.

“I like sculptures that you can go inside of and become a part of,” he added. “This is one of a series of sculptures that I’ve made that you can get inside of.”

Nevertheless, he said, if wheelchair accessibility hadn’t been a requirement, he would have given it a smaller door, “where you would have had to get small yourself, and crawl through the hole to get inside.”

He explained the teacher ant’s basalt chalkboard as giving a schematic of the ants’ underground home.

“The anthill is just, usually, the dirt or pebbles that the ants have excavated in order for them to have these little chambers underground,” he said. “Once I started studying what the chambers looked like, it was ironic, or coincidental or synchronistic, that the chambers actually looked an awful like the rocks themselves in the various passageways leading to chambers.”

Belleveau enthused about the variety of purposes for those underground chambers, from nurseries to farming fungus as food.

Belleveau pauses inside his sculpture during the installation to rest on one of the stone "ant eggs" and appreciate the pattern of shadows thrown by the sunlight shining through the lattice of steel rods and native rocks. (Robin Fish/Enterprise, June 5, 2021)
Belleveau pauses inside his sculpture during the installation to rest on one of the stone "ant eggs" and appreciate the pattern of shadows thrown by the sunlight shining through the lattice of steel rods and native rocks. (Robin Fish/Enterprise, June 5, 2021)

“The ant world is quite fascinating,” he said. “I also raise bees, so I’m conscious of the collective consciousness of critters that live together and work as one in a communal situation – which I’m always hopeful that we can do as human beings.”

Inside the main part of the sculpture are a few separate pieces, including larger stones representing ant eggs – big enough for a visitor to sit on – and the face from the door of a safe, whimsically protecting the hatchway to the underground nest.

“It’s just to keep everybody out of the underground chambers,” he joked. “Otherwise, there’d be a big hole there, and some kid’d get his head stuck down there trying to see what’s underground. We’ve got to protect the public, so we had to put a lock on the door.”

Belleveau said he never included the safe face in the artwork as it toured the sculpture trail circuit, saving it for when "Ant-Venture" arrived at its permanent home.

“You have such an artistry,” Park Rapids parks board member Liz Smith told him. “The first time I saw this was the sculpture walk two years ago, and I just absolutely fell in love with it.”

After a six-month stint at the arboretum, "Ant-Venture" did the sculpture walk tour, spending time in Sioux Falls, S.D.; Sioux City, Iowa; Mankato, Minneapolis, St. Cloud, Bemidji and Park Rapids.

“I’ve rolled it on and rolled it off the trailer many times as I’ve implanted it in different communities,” said Belleveau, “until it got down here, where Liz could fall in love with it and raise money and purchase it.”

Park Rapids parks board member Liz Smith points out one of her favorite details inside 'Ant-Venture' – a teacher ant and her chalkboard, orienting new recruits to the layout of the larger ant nest hidden below. (Robin Fish/Enterprise, June 5, 2021)
Park Rapids parks board member Liz Smith points out one of her favorite details inside 'Ant-Venture' – a teacher ant and her chalkboard, orienting new recruits to the layout of the larger ant nest hidden below. (Robin Fish/Enterprise, June 5, 2021)

Bringing it home

Last year, when Belleveau attended an open house for the Park Rapids sculpture walk featuring another of his sculptures, Smith asked him what had happened to "Ant-Venture" and they started a conversation about bringing it back to stay.

Smith acknowledged LuAnn Hurd-Lof with Heartland Arts, who helped raise the funds to purchase "Ant-Venture" for the city parks. Out of the $6,000 asking price, Heartland Arts contributed $3,000, the Park Rapids Community Fund gave $2,000 and the Park Rapids Rotary donated $1,000.

Belleveau said he collected most of the rocks used in the sculpture while kayaking along the shore of Lake Superior. He spoke knowledgeably about the history and composition of different type of rock, from granite and rhyolite to a chunk of amethyst that seems to serve as the keystone to the archway.

Some of the red rhyolite rocks have chunks of quartz embedded in them, making them look like pieces of meat marbled with fat.

“I have a really good time picking them up,” he said.

To prepare “Ant-Venture” for its new life at Deane Park, Belleveau sandblasted it, smoothing out the rust on the steel rods but leaving a patina, and then coated it with lacquer.

He said a good angle to view it from is lying on the ground inside, looking up at the ants’ entry hole at the top.

“I think kids are going to love just sitting in there and talking,” said Smith. “I can see parents being in there. I can see adults getting engaged here. For heaven’s sakes, they could get married in there. Look at how beautiful this is!”