The X's are back marking their spot.
On Thursday morning, a crew of workers from Clark Industrial Welding & Fabrication gathered around a flatbed trailer parked at the north end of North Higgins Avenue, and began carefully unloading the four tall, red X's that comprise Taäg Peterson's iconic sculpture, "Crossings."
Over the course of the early hours of the day, the crew maneuvered each of the 750-pound, 11-feet-tall steel X's into place and bolted them back where they've stood for more than 20 years.
All the while, Peterson stood bundled against the chilly February air, watching and smiling along with several members of the Missoula Public Art Committee.
"They're really going to look better than the first time," Peterson said. "This is a joyous occasion."
The sculpture, which Peterson fabricated and installed back in 1986, was removed in early November of this past year, so that it could be refurbished. Years of weather and occasional vandalism had taken a toll on the downtown Missoula icon, said Kathy Olson, a member of the Public Art Committee.
"Over time since they were first installed, the X's have been scratched, there's been some wear and tear, some tagging," she said. "So it was time to get that fixed and restored. It really is the Public Art Committee's responsibility to monitor and maintain the work for the city, and so that's what this was about."
The restoration project came together through more than $30,000 in donated services from area businesses including Clark Industrial, ABC Rentals, Nash Enterprises, Deneve & Kahl Concrete, Caras Nursery and Peterson himself.
But it was not without its surprises.
"When we took off the old paint, we found that there was a lot of Bondo and filler in them, so we had to fix that," said Lyndon Clark, owner of Clark Industrial. "It ended up taking about four times as much time to get it done as we had anticipated."
But Clark was all smiles on Thursday as well, as he watched his crew work.
"We're kind of glad to get them off our truck," he said.
The sculpture sits in a small park in the middle of Circle Square, where it echoes themes of its surroundings, including the red slate roof of the old Northern Pacific Railroad Depot and the tracks beyond it.
Yet, when it was first unveiled, some locals didn't get the references. A week after the sculpture was first installed - before the final protective coating of sealer had dried on the X's - vandals tarred and feathered it under cover of night.
"That really messed up the paint from the get-go," said Peterson, "so they never really looked like they were supposed to."
Now, with everything restored, Peterson said he hopes locals will continue to embrace the sculpture as an enduring part of the downtown landscape, which itself has received a slow makeover in part through the projects of the Public Art Committee.
"Hopefully people will appreciate the growth and value of public art downtown," said Peterson. "The fact that they committed the resources and effort to refurbish this, it's a very positive thing that I'm proud to see happening."