Aldo Moroni's long-term relationship with the Dinkytown area and the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood started in 1972, after he relocated from Chicago to find his path as an artist at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. While he experimented with all sorts of artistic mediums, he struggled to be happy with his work. So he consulted his professor.
“He said, 'Why don't you go home and make me one building?'” Moroni says. “'Make me one little house, because you like to play with little houses.'”
He brought the tiny house back to his professor, who told him to go make 10 more, and then 100 more. When he had finished, he had a small city of over 1,000 tiny houses. Each was lightweight, and could easily fit in the palm of one's hand. He made up a story for its citizens, and gave the city its own historical background.
“When they all come together, they start to tell these big mythologies and these big stories about larger ideas,” he says.
That project landed him a contract for a show at the Walker Art Center just before graduation, and he's been using sculpture to tell stories ever since. His latest story and city is grounded in reality, however. The resulting piece, Love Letter to Our Past, is a clay model of Dinkytown circa 1917. He was able to reconstruct the area with help from Google, though he took a few creative liberties.
“It was a little town in the middle of town,” he says, pointing out his tiny versions of landmarks such as the Dinky Dome and Marshall-University High. “And now it's just vaporized. That's the story.”
Moroni can go on and on about the Dinkytown that's no more. He can tell you all about how the Leroy Buffington A-Mill “fed the world,” and how establishing the University of Minnesota helped form the intellectual class.
“The real history of the city actually starts on this side of the river,” he says.
It's also a city that's created a viable environment for artists, including Moroni, to make a living. He credits a lot of that to the city's support structure for artists.
“The art scene has always been vital here. It's healthy,” he says.
The story he's telling with his model is an important one. Not just to him, but to the many residents in Dinkytown and Marcy-Holmes, especially with pieces of the the city's history is being demolished to make way for more modern developments — with pricing few can afford.
“They're destroying all of the key old history as non-essential buildings, and then they put in these things, the dorms, which the students can't afford to live in at all,” he says.
Moroni understands that cities need to grow and change like everything else, but he'd appreciate it if it slowed down a bit. And he hopes the model will have people talking about what's going on in their own neighborhoods.
“A really passionate idea for me is that art's not about solutions. I'm not designing a solution,” he says. “But I'm asking questions. So I want them to have a conversation about their neighborhood, and what's happening there.”
Moroni's latest model will be featured at Imagine Art Gallery & Studio this weekend. The group show, titled “Love on the Rocks,” is built on the theme of love. Jeweler Lori Lundgren will have rock and stone-based work on display, and gallery owner Sherri Faye will also have pieces for sale. There will also be live music from Monica LaPlante.
IF YOU GO:
"Love on the Rocks"
The reception will run from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, February 12.
The exhibit will be on display through the weekend, with one additional viewing on Saturday, February 20.