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Love it or not, the bright red XXXX sculpture in Circle Square has been Missoula’s most visible – and most talked about – piece of public art since its installation in 1986.

“Crossings” is the creation of artist Taäg Peterson. The four king-size metal X’s represent the railroad trestles that provide passage across mountain canyons.

Ours provide a backdrop for the Missoula Farmers Market, and also an easily recognized meeting place. As in: “I’ll meet you at the X’s.” They appear in postcards, and in countless photo shoots. They make a statement.

Their installation provoked a lively debate over public art all those decades ago. “Quite a few people thought we should be filling up potholes (rather) than making public art,” Peterson remembered in 2010, when the X’s were dismantled, restored to their original luster and returned to duty.

We’ve grown to love them now, it seems, and support for the city’s Percent for Art Program remains steadfast. (By policy, the city of Missoula sets aside 1 percent of public construction funds for artwork.)

“It’s gone from controversy to love,” said artist Dana Boussard, a longtime member of the city’s public art committee.

And so we have all manner of public art in and around town: a giant cat, a couple of popular trout, a geometric tribute to water and another to waves, a stained-glass window.

And it all started with X’s marking the spot where North Higgins Avenue comes to an end.

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Get to Missoula’s iconic XXX’s on Mountain Line and bus routes 1, 4, 5, 6 and 12.

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Editor Sherry Devlin can be reached at 523-5250 or at sdevlin@missoulian.com.

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