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Two of Missoula's favored passions, art and outdoor recreation, dovetailed on Friday with the opening of downtown's new Missoula Art Park and a bicycle-themed exhibition of sculptures.

The park is a joint effort between public and private sectors about a year and a half in the making. They include the Adventure Cycling Association, the Missoula Art Museum and the city of Missoula.

It has spaces for sculptures on the north and south ends of East Pine Street in front of the MAM and the ACA headquarters, plus greenery, benches and a Portland Loo outdoor bathroom.

At Friday's dedication ceremony, which was attended by several hundred people, Missoula Mayor John Engen and members of the partner organizations thanked everyone involved for their work on the park, whether it was design, fundraising or other aspects.

"The fact that people can enjoy this site long after we're dust is pretty amazing," he said, "And it also matters. Art, by the way, also matters."

He said art "ensures that we speak a common language. As long as we speak a common language, we've got hope for this world," he said. 

The MAM will curate exhibitions of outdoor sculptures, offering a dynamic and inviting space in the North end. For the first showing, "By the Bike," the MAM invited artists who are passionate about biking to create cycle-themed works.

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Patrick Zentz, a Billings artist and rancher, designs and builds kinetic sculptures that merge art and scientific concepts that reference the Montana landscape.

His piece, "cycle/s," is clustered with allusions to technological and biological concepts.

"It deals with everything from the jet stream to the bloodstream in terms of cycles," he said.

Standing atop a pedestal, the cleanly designed sculpture incorporates a bicycle wheel that works as an anemometer to measure wind speed and a polished metal semi-circle that functions as a wind vane, supported by a 100-year-old wagon wheel.

At high noon, a stylized sprocket affixed to the wagon wheel will cast a shadow pointing straight north on the sidewalk. A series of discs installed in the concrete will be encircled by the sprocket's shadow on particular days of the year.

"In the path of that northern shadow will be marked the summer solstice, the spring and autumn equinox and the winter solstice," he said.

The bottom of the semi-circle is adorned with a stylized pedal crank, he said, tailed by a curving line that references both a sine wave and the pattern created as a pedal is in motion. Two pedals in motion would create a double-helix, a nod to the role that bicycles have played in humanity's advance: they were used in early airplanes and early computer designs.

That hundred-year-old wagon wheel happens to be the same age as one of the most influential pieces of contemporary art from the 20th century. In 1917, French artist Marcel Duchamp incensed and revolutionized the art world with "Fountain," a submission to a salon show: He took a standard urinal and signed it "R. Mutt," an action that challenged all notions of the artist as creator and inspired the basis of much conceptual art. At the base of "cycle/s," Zentz alludes to the drain holes of the urinal, with three extra to point to the solstice and equinox discs.

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Whitney Ford-Terry, an Adventure Cycling tour specialist and who worked as an art curator in Seattle, created a participatory piece called "Passing Place."

She reached out to designers Randy Jo Smith, Adam Balfour and Marlana Kosky to design two hammocks where people could relax while also engaging with bicycle travel.

Visitors can rest and use their cellphones to listen to recordings of bicyclists telling stories about their relationship with the sport. The majority of her interviews were with women and people of color, who are typically underrepresented in the biking world, she said.

"It's been a great opportunity to create a space for those stories and to share the voices of the people who I've been inspired by, so they can inspired others," she said.

As part of the exhibition, Ford-Terry is hosting coffee club meetings every Wednesday morning at 8. Participants can meet at the art park and then pedal to the Clark Fork Natural Area. For more information, go to therethere.space/coffeeclub. For related events she's arranging, go the missoulaartmuseum.org.

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In a fitting coincidence, sculptor artist Keith Goodhart was on a three-day, 250-mile bicycle tour through the Bighorn Mountains when the MAM first reached out to him.

Goodhart, a carpenter by trade, used scrap materials from his day job to create his work, a neat parallel with the recycled "Hiawatha" piece. He said he likes working within the "parameters of what's available." He doesn't buy wood for his sculptures, and he can use old drop cloths as canvas.

Goodhart said "Untitled" is his largest and most ambitious piece: a tower of puzzle-like wooden boxes topped by what he described as a "crown" of contorted bicycle wheels.

While the wood is waterproofed, it will eventually get more character as it's weathered by the Montana environment.

"Things, instead of rotting, they get harder and get a kind of varnish on them. You watch these old buildings, and it takes years to fall over," he said.

He said it's inspired him to make larger pieces for his ranch in Big Timber.

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Ann Appleby and Kim Reineking collaborated on "Only One Hiawatha," a large sculpture built from old bicycle frames.

They used parts culled from Free Cycles, the community bicycle shop which has an extensive number of frames on their property nicknamed "the boneyard." They started in winter, when they had to work through the snow to find the right shapes and colors.

"As you walk around it and as the sun shifts, the color and the lines and shapes all change. It gets more and more complex," Reintjes said.

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Not all of the "By the Bike" sculptures are outside – the contribution by Bozeman ceramist Jeremy Hatch greets visitors inside the lobby.

Atop a pedestal, roughly 4 feet by 4 feet, are a tangled pile of bicycle parts, jutting out at crooked angles like an abstracted image of the bicycle "boneyard" at Free Cycles. The ultra-realistic complexity of the objects belies their material: porcelain.

Hatch is well known for his slip-casting techniques, which involve creating a mold of an object, like parts of a bicycle frame, and then casting a pristine white porcelain replica for a trompe l'oeil effect. Hatch casts individual parts of the objects and then assembles them – in separate projects, he's produced a life-size treehouse and swing set. For his untitled sculpture, Hatch cast the individual parts and assembled them on site using a detailed diagram.

The piece has multiple "please do not touch" signs. Ironically, Reintjes said they were necessary because people want to feel it to confirm that it is really made of porcelain.

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