Babe the Waabigwan Ox will adorn downtown Brainerd this summer, thanks to 15-year-old Brainerd artist Aiyana Beaulieu.
“I am just absolutely thrilled. I think this is a great opportunity, and I’m just so excited to share my artwork,” Beaulieu said Tuesday, May 18.
Beaulieu’s proposal for a floral Babe statue was chosen out of nine submissions to be painted on a statue of Babe the Blue Ox that Nor-Son construction donated to the city last year. The statue previously stood outside the company’s Baxter office.
Brainerd City Council members agreed to solicit proposals from local artists to paint the statue before installing it downtown.
The Crossing Arts Alliance, together with the Destination Downtown Business Coalition, put a call out for Minnesota artists to submit ideas for their vision of Babe and presented nine submissions to the city council Monday, May 17.
“It’s a unique way to bring local artists into the downtown community with the sculpture and provide unique art for downtown Brainerd,” Brenda Billman-Arndt, Destination Downtown Business Coalition chair, told the council.
A panel with representatives from the chamber of commerce, city of Brainerd, Destination Downtown Business Coalition, The Crossing Arts Alliance and downtown business owners reviewed the artist submissions to determine how well they met the desired criteria.
The chosen piece should be high-quality, family-friendly work that is appropriate for public display, Crossing Arts Alliance Executive Director Lisa Jordan said.
“We want to think about what connections might people make with this artwork,” Jordan said. “How will the public interact? What stories will they come away with with this piece? And finally, will the piece be unique and memorable? Will it tie them here to Brainerd? Will it be the piece that makes them go, ‘Remember that piece we saw that was really cool? Where was that? Oh, it was downtown Brainerd.’
“We see this daily with your You Betcha mural. It’s highly photographed. If you’re on social media, I’m sure you’ve seen it somewhere.”
After assessing the designs submitted, the panel chose Beaulieu’s piece, titled “Babe the Waabigwan Ox.” Waabigwan is the Ojibwe word for “flower,” and Beaulieu’s intricately floral patterned Babe is inspired by Ojibwe beadwork. The bright, multi-colored flowers are set on a black background.
“The drawing touches on the culture and the wonderful natural beauty in Minnesota,” Beaulieu wrote in her proposal. “The beige horns and hooves also complement the striking dark fur which helps the floral design pop.”
Beaulieu, who has loved art from a very young age, is excited to share a piece of her Ojibwe culture through her art.
“Minnesota is diverse in a lot of ways, and I feel like this design really connects to the culture,” she said Tuesday.
She hopes to differentiate between people’s ideas of Native American culture and what it really is and show how diverse the culture can be from tribe to tribe.
Once complete, Beaulieu’s Babe will reside in downtown Brainerd year-round, though the exact spot has not yet been chosen. Billman-Arndt and Jordan said the statue will not be in the street or on a sidewalk but will be in a visible location that will not hinder the city’s snowplowing efforts in the winter.
“We’re very excited to see the arts being welcomed into downtown,” Jordan said Monday.