Duluth has no shortage of love for its most famous son. Already there is Bob Dylan Way, the annual Dylan Days celebration (which spreads all the way up to Hibbing, where Dylan’s family moved after he was born), and the series of Duluth Does Dylan compilations.
And soon, if the Dylan By Duluth project rolls out as planned, there will be a 12-foot-tall bronze statue forever proclaiming the city’s admiration of the folk icon who once called Duluth home.
Sculptor Tom Page is at the heart of the Dylan By Duluth project, and has already created similar large-scale bronze statues for the Grand Rapids Library and other public spaces. He’s launched a Kickstarter to cover the materials for his newest project, and has already caught the attention of Duluth Mayor Don Ness, who calls the Dylan By Duluth sculpture “a way for our city to recognize our most accomplished son, and to celebrate Duluth’s authentic arts and music ethos.”
Page recently spoke to me about his project over the phone from his studio in Cohasset, Minnesota. Our interview will also air this Sunday night on the Local Show, which airs at 6 p.m. on 89.3 FM in the Twin Cities and 107.3 FM up in Grand Rapids.
Local Current: Let’s start with the basics. What is the Dylan by Duluth project?
Tom Page: The Dylan by Duluth project is about 18 months in the making, and it’s a project that’s being funded by those that appreciate the artistry of Bob Dylan, through Kickstarter.com. The sculpture will be then donated to the city of Duluth. And we have met with the mayor, Mayor Don Ness, and he is very supportive of the project, and we think it’s going to be a very nice addition to the city of Duluth and a fitting tribute to somebody that I think has global respect.
Can you tell me more about Duluth’s relationship to Dylan? Obviously he was born there, and over the years there have been many tributes, like Dylan Way…
Right, there’s a walkway, it’s a couple miles long and it’s called Dylan Way, and about every block or two they have this sign that has a logo identifying it as such. It’s a very nice walk, and reminiscent of the neighborhood that Bob Dylan spent his years in.
It’s interesting that this project is surfacing now, since we just found out that Dylan is going to be playing Duluth.
That is just serendipity, I can’t explain it any better than that. They’re very happy to have him coming back; he’s been there a couple times before, playing at the Bayfront Blues Festival site. He always draws a big crowd, I’ve attended his concerts in the past, and I know they’re very happy to have him back.
What do you think that would be like for him, to return to Duluth and have the city so excited to see him?
You know, I would not pretend for a nanosecond to know what Bob Dylan’s feelings are. [laughs] I think he’s very elusive, very mystical, that’s probably fair to say. What his exact sentiments about anything are, I really would not want to speculate on. But if it were me, I think it’d be kind of fun to return to your birthplace and your old neighborhood, where you spent your early years developing.
When did you first get into Dylan’s music?
I’m a little bit younger than Dylan, but the best way I can describe it is that we’ve shared a similar space in time. By that, I simply mean that as long as I’ve been conscious of music, Dylan seems to have been popular. So even if a person wanted to divorce themselves of anything that he’s done, I don’t think you could. I think he’s a strong personality and enormous global talent. I think he’s one of the significant artists of our time, and deserves to be represented as such.
You know, everybody asks me that, and my best answer is, it’s the one I’m listening to at the moment. I mean, the thing that amazes me is that most people that are of a category of genius have a period of time that they’re considered to be most productive. And it’s generally 25-35. Albert Einstein did nothing really terribly significant after he was 32 years old. Dylan, on the other hand, has just been prolific from the starting blocks all the way through his senior years. So it’s just another reason to pay tribute to the guy. One of my favorite sayings is ‘Talent does what it can’—and I relate to that as an artist. ‘Talent does what it can, but genius does what it must.’ And that’s difference between Bob Dylan and Tom Page the sculptor. [laughs]
What are your thoughts on his more recent tours, and the way his voice is sounding now?
Well, you know, you can’t step into the same river twice. And I think if you were to appreciate what he did when he was young—and not everybody did—and assuming that he became more popular in his middle years, I think you have to embrace people in their older years. The voice, to me, is fine. I enjoy everything the guy’s done. I just can’t say that enough.
Tell me more about the sculpture.
The actual sculpture will be about 12 feet tall, and that will include the base. The base has two tiers, and on the tiers there will be area for bronze plaques. People that donate at a premium level will have their name in the bronze plaques to be part of the Dylan legacy forever, and it will be a wonderful place for people to travel, to come and reflect on the total presentation. From the base on up, the actual bronze figure of Dylan as he walks out of the Iron Range and onto the world stage is about 9 feet tall, maybe 9 and a half feet tall, and that element of the tribute is cast bronze. And that shows kind of an eclectic Bob Dylan, of those early years when he goes from Hibbing to Duluth, and leaves northern Minnesota for the world stage. There is an element of some abstraction, it represents kind of a “Blowing in the Wind” element, where we’ll have lyrics of some of the songs that will be in the bronze part of the sculpture.
Interesting, which songs?
That’s really yet to be determined. On the model, just to illustrate the point, I stamped in some of his song titles, and the intention always was probably to do his lyrics, because he’s so well known for his poetry and his lyricism. And they probably have more meaning than the song titles. So that will require some thought, and I will draw on people that are better aficionados of Dylan than I am. But we’ll come up with something meaningful that I think will respond to everybody out there.
Learn more about the Dylan sculpture at DylanByDuluth.com and the project’s Kickstarter page.