May 28, 2023 - Things to Do

Giant pencil sculpture to get birthday sharpening

John Higgins and Curtis Ingvoldstad stand next to Loti Pencil, and a "human pencil" dances at the inaugural sharpening last year. Photos: Audrey Kennedy/Axios

A Lake of the Isles homeowner is hosting a birthday party this Saturday for an unusual honoree: a giant No. 2 pencil.

Why it matters: From enormous pinecones to 1,200-pound cherries, we have some unique public art — but an anniversary party to celebrate and sharpen a giant pencil that claims to be sentient is a one-of-a-kind highlight of the Twin Cities art scene.

Catch up quick: In 2022, Minneapolis resident John Higgins hired chainsaw sculptor Curtis Ingvoldstad to carve a 180-year-old wind-damaged bur oak tree in his front yard into "Loti Pencil", an enormous public art piece that the two hoped would become the next Spoonbridge and Cherry.

  • The unveiling last June drew hundreds of visitors and featured a marching band, human pencils and inaugural "sharpening" by professional pencil sharpener David Rees.
  • The pencil has drawn tens of thousands of viewers since its debut — from 50 to 200 a day, Higgins estimates — and will receive its "No. 2 sharpening" on June 3 1-3pm at 2217 E. Lake of the Isles Parkway, Minneapolis.

Details: Audrey caught up with Higgins and Ingvoldstad to learn more about their plans for the party.

  • The event will kick off with a live trivia contest, giveaways, drum and bugle corps, ice cream truck and music before Rees and Ingvoldstad begin the ceremony.
  • The tip will be shaved down 3-4 inches to keep it a "living sculpture," changing and evolving like a real pencil does during use, Higgins said.
  • For the occasion, Ingvoldstad carved a 4-foot-long handheld pencil sharpener that weighs more than 100 pounds, though he declined to share details on exactly how it will be used.

The big picture: The project started as a fun way to give an oak tree a new life, but the community's energy for the pencil has exceeded all expectations, Higgins said.

  • "People have found so much joy and happiness in this carving. We could have manufactured a pencil and put it out in the yard, but it just wouldn't have the same feeling," Ingvoldstad added.

💭 Audrey's thought bubble: The inaugural sharpening was one of the most unusual events I've ever attended in the Twin Cities. If you're in the area, it's worth a stop.

📝 Bonus: In its own words

When I reached out for this story, Loti Pencil's Instagram account, which claims to be run by the pencil, told me the pencil would also answer any questions via spokesman Sam Buck.

  • In the spirit of journalistic integrity, I had to interview the sentient creation itself. This interview has been edited for style and brevity.

🤕 Does the sharpening hurt?

"My tip isn’t really 'living' — the 'nerves' in that part die back a foot or so, so it’s like getting a haircut."

🥄 Thoughts on Spoonbridge and Cherry?

"I see him around from time to time. Very nice. We connected recently about the new crop of goslings and played some pick-up basketball."

🎂 What do you want for your birthday?

"Attention, mostly. It would be nice to have some good weather, too."


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