Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” may still be on the line, but so, too, is the lineman who was built into the current Consolidated Communications building at South Broad and Hickory Streets. And this local lineman has been “on the line” for nearly 60 years!
“As a boy, I always admired these men up on the pole. I think every man does,” said Don Gregory, a member of the Gustavus Adolphus College Art Department from 1946-79, in a November 5, 1962, Mankato Free Press article. Gregory previously was mentioned in this space in regard to the mosaic on the side of Grace Lutheran Church several blocks away.
When what was then called Mankato Citizens Telephone Company was built in the early 1960s on the former site of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, the architect’s original plans called for a series of plaques on stone panels, possibly depicting different models of telephones. That was dismissed, however, because it would call for frequent updates. Gregory made a sketch for the 12-foot lineman and shared it with Howard Vetter, then vice president of Vetter Stone Company, who got it to MCTC Vice President Pete Ferguson, Jr.
The sculpture is what’s called a bas relief, defined as “a technique of sculpture in which shapes are carved so that they stand out from the background.” It was carved into 18 pieces of Buff stone, the same as the stone used on the rest of the building, by a crew of seven under the direction of Paul Vetter, Sr. The stone has the same coloring as the First Presbyterian Church of Mankato across Hickory Street, which was dedicated in 1896.
As a boy, I always admired these men up on the pole. I think every man does.Don Gregory
The phone company took a picture of a lineman on the pole, said to be Dick Bartholomew, who worked for the phone company from 1955-94. This according to information on the CityArt public art web site. Then Gregory and Vetter employees made sketches, scale drawings, cross sections, scale models and full-sized models. About one month later, cutting of the stone began.
Interestingly, there was some conflict with how the image would be placed on the building. “In the final sketch before carving began, the artist decided to lean the pole at an angle, which was a topic of debate with the company’s lineman at the time, who thought the pole should have been straight.” Choosing to place it at an angle makes the lineman appear to be leaning out toward Broad Street.
Gregory told The Free Press in 1962 that the rough draft was turned into a color drawing, which was then enlarged to the size of the final carving and cross-sectioned (making a contour map to show how deep each cut should be). A clay model was made, then cast in plaster at a scale of three-quarters of an inch per foot. Full-sized models of intricate parts such as the face were also made.
“The plaque has been carved on 18 individual panels of varying sizes,” The Free Press reported. “Most of the panels weigh about 700 pounds with the largest going up to between 800 and 900 pounds.” By creating it this way, pieces were more easily slotted and lifted into place, getting fitted together like a jig-saw puzzle on the side of the building.
A small air hammer was used for most of the cutting work, and Vetter carved the lineman’s face, which took about four months on a part-time basis. The building, including the finished stone bas relief sculpture, was dedicated in May 1963.
ARTchitecture is a regular feature by Mike Lagerquist. Mike highlights Mankato Area public artwork that has become part of the landscape as well as spotlighting architecturally significant local buildings — both existing and no longer standing. Suggestions are welcome. Use the MankatoLIFE contact form to send your ideas.