A natural tribute to Wellstone
A natural tribute to Wellstone
St. Paul sculptors spend summer polishing stones that will honor
plane crash victims
BY GREGG AAMOT
IRON JUNCTION, Minn. St. Paul sculptors Philip Rickey and Peter
Morales exchanged a summer in the Twin Cities for a cramped
apartment on the Iron Range and long days laboring in the sun. And
they wouldn't have it any other way.
The artists are working 12-hour days behind a dusty machine shed
near the Iron Range hamlet of Iron Junction, polishing stones from a
taconite mine into tributes to the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone and
five others who died in a plane crash just down the road.
"I was moved by his death, and saddened," Rickey said, "so I feel
honored to be part of creating a lasting memorial to his politics
and his family, and to the people who worked with him."
Said Morales: "I was devastated the day of the tragedy, as so many
The men began working on the stones in June and must finish in time
for a Sept. 25 dedication at the memorial site, a six-acre piece of
land carved into the woods five miles east of here.
Wellstone Action, an organization created to promote Wellstone's
brand of progressive, grassroots politics, commissioned the $250,000
memorial and gave direction to the project.
Rickey, the lead sculptor, met with the victims' families and picked
the stones himself from a dormant Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. mine in Hoyt
Lakes, Minn. St. Louis County donated the land for the memorial, and
the landscape architecture firm Sanders, Wacker, Bergly Inc. helped
with the design.
The men hope the memorial will honor Wellstone's deep connection to
the Range long a DFL stronghold his relationship with miners and
his love of the natural environment.
The stones of granite, stromatolite and other rock aren't being made
into statutes or tombstones. Rather, they are being polished to a
smooth and glistening finish while their natural shape is retained.
The names of the victims will be etched into the stones, and some
personal items will be buried beneath them.
Wellstone was bound for Virginia, Minn., on Oct. 25, 2002, when the
plane he was in went down. His wife, Sheila, their daughter, Marcia
Markuson, and staffers Tom Lapic, Mary McEvoy and Will McLaughlin
died in the crash, along with pilots Richard Conry and Michael Guess.
One stone will represent Paul and Sheila Wellstone while each of the
others in Wellstone's group will have a rock of their own. They will
be placed around a circle, with stone benches across from them. A
trail that winds through the six acres will include information
about Wellstone's life and work.
The names of the pilots will be included at the entrance to the
"They wanted us to work with the indigenous stone of the Range
because Paul had a close relationship with the mines, the steel
workers and the Range itself," Rickey explained.
On a blistering Tuesday morning, Morales in a soaked T-shirt,
facemask and wide-brimmed hat worked on a stone with an electric
polisher. Tiny diamonds embedded in the polishing pads smoothed the
Another assistant, 16-year-old Nate Holmes of nearby Angora, Minn.,
ground off the rocks' rough edges to get them in condition for
At the memorial site, which is just 2,000 feet from the site of the
plane crash, a trail leads from the entrance which will include a
stone inscribed with an eagle and a poem to the circle where the
five stones will be placed. Trees that were cut to make the trail
will remain where they fell, amid the aspen, birch and spruce that
reach into the northern Minnesota sky.
It's hoped the spot will make for reflection and inspiration and
for some, maybe closure.
"We wanted to preserve the site and use as light a touch as
possible," Rickey said. "Nature is the big designer here, in a
sense. We want the vibrant voice of the stone to interact with the