Utah’s Public Art Program Helps Commission a New Golden Spike Monument

By Renée Leta

On October 23, a 43-foot tall golden spike artwork arrived on the steps of the Utah State Capitol. The impressive “Golden Spike Monument,” by artist Douwe Blumberg, was the result of more than three years of work. 

The monument began as an artistic idea from the nonprofit Golden Spike Foundation’s close work with numerous divisions within the Utah Department of Cultural & Community Engagement. The Utah Division of Arts & Museums’ Public Art Program launched an art commission in collaboration with the foundation to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Summit in Northern Utah. 

In 2019, the Utah Department of Cultural & Community Engagement joined the foundation to sponsor Spike 150, the 150th-anniversary celebration. On May 10, Spike 150 hosted more than 40,000 people at Golden Spike National Historical Park, while more than 150 commemorative events, including the department-led Treasures of the Transcontinental Railroad, were held across the state in that year.

Transcontinental history offers complex stories of technology, innovation, and business. The foundation chose to focus primarily on the stories of the railroad workers, who laid nearly 2,000 miles of track through some of the country’s most forbidding landscapes. To accomplish this engineering feat, the workforce brought together a diverse group of laborers, including Chinese, Irish, and other immigrants, as well as newly freed slaves from southern states, veterans who had recently fought in the Civil War, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Symphonies, plays, and art are all created by people working together,” said Doug Foxley, chairman of the Golden Spike Foundation. “It is important for my 9-year-old grandson — and others — to know that although you may have disagreements, you can work together and create great things.”  

To create a lasting legacy and to inspire people to learn from the past and honor this work, the foundation sought the expertise of the state’s Public Art Program, which sent out a call for artist proposals.

In 2020, 229 artists responded to the proposal from the Golden Spike Foundation. Artists from 39 states and territories in the United States, as well as from France, Japan, Spain and Canada, expressed interest. After rigorous deliberation, five finalists were selected to submit concepts, then two artists were selected to create artworks.

Ilan Averbuch’s “Monument to their Memory” was installed in 2022 at Golden Spike National Historical Park. Blumberg’s “Golden Spike Monument” was selected for a new park adjacent to Interstate 15 near Brigham City, which will be installed in 2024.

After 28 months of research, design, sculpting, welding, and meticulous gold leafing, Blumberg’s piece was completed in his studio in northern Kentucky. On Oct. 5, the foundation held a kick-off celebration in Lexington, Ky, and announced that it would travel over the next twenty days to communities across the country. 

During the 20 days in the fall of 2023 when the monument toured from Kentucky to Utah on a Whistle Stop Road Tour, the foundation offered traveling history and art lessons to partners at schools, railroad stations, and railroad museums in six states. The artist joined the tour to answer questions about the monument and his artistic process.

Some 3,500 spectators and 1,200 elementary- and middle-school students from 16 school districts participated in the tour. To date, the tour has received nearly 60 million media impressions, reaching an audience as far away as Australia.

In April 2024, the foundation will complete the Central Pacific side of the story during the Jupiter Driving of the Spike Tour, which will end in Utah at Ogden’s Union Station. 

After the tour, Golden Spike Monument will be the key feature at the 8-acre Golden Spike Park at Reeder Ranch in Brigham City. The park, located adjacent to Interstate 15 off Exit 363, is designed to be a jumping-off point to learn more about the Transcontinental history. 

Renée Leta serves as vice president of impact and engagement for the Golden Spike Foundation. Jill Love, executive director of the Utah Department of Cultural & Community Engagement, serves as an ex-officio member of the Board of Directors for the foundation.