Sewer Sculptures

Allen and Mary Dodge draw their artistic inspiration from the intestinal tract.

“Crawling Ciliate.” - ALLEN DODGE
Allen Dodge
“Crawling Ciliate.”

Poop jokes come with the territory. As do snickers and giggles, says Allen Dodge, as he jokes about the possibility of including sculptures of dung beetles for a commissioned piece of art to be installed at Coeur d’Alene’s Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Instead of beetles, Allen and wife, Mary Dee, created ten 10-foot-high abstracted welded-steel sculptures that will be installed at the Wastewater Plant’s new laboratory/administration building, collections shop and maintenance facility along Hubbard Street. Dale Young’s “Totem to the Water of Life” was also commissioned.

The wastewater commission is just the latest in Coeur d’Alene’s ongoing tizzy about funding — the urban renewal organization known as Lake City Development Corp., the Mayor’s Institute on City Design, funding public art — but the Dodges are taking it all in stride.

“All things repeat themselves in nature, from microscopic on up,” adds Allen, also known for his work with the Human Rights Education Institute, school districts and public libraries.

Things don’t just repeat themselves; they’re connected. Originally, the Dodges’ proposal consisted of large-scale iron horses, bison, fish and other native fauna. After touring the facility with Wastewater Superintendent Sid Frederickson, however, the Dodges took a new tack.

“The human employees simply set the stage and managed the environment,” says Allen of the facility’s 25-member workforce, “but the trillions of microorganisms were the real workers.” Essentially, they break down the sewage in the 6-million-gallon capacity plant, eventually turning it into something manageable, even desirable, like compost.

“So,” continues Allen, “light bulb moment ... we thought we should represent these unsung laborers.” A few YouTube videos later, he and Mary Dee had designs for seven “Frolicking Creatures,” including depictions of rotifers, filamentous bacteria, crawling ciliates, flagellates, round worms, stalked ciliates and free swimming ciliates.

At a preview in the Dodges’ Fourth Avenue studio — the home of Local Color, the screenprinting business they ran from 1985 to 2005 — response to the sculpture was a mixture of curiosity and humor.

“I thought that the reaction of the visitors was very connected and understanding,” said Allen, “probably as these things represent actual beings in nature.”

The kids, however, just thought they were fun to climb on. But that fits the master plan, too. They’re envisioning school kids touring the facility, learning about life cycles firsthand

One of the objectives for any artwork selected, says Frederickson, “was to teach about the water environment.”

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