Jul 20, 2012 • By

A big bowl of Cheerios

As basic and familiar as they are, even a toddler knows that Cheerios can be art.

You can’t miss an extraordinary sculpture of ordinary Cheerios if you’re a visitor to General Mills’ main office in Minneapolis.

Artist Jud Nelson was well-known in the 1980s and 1990s for doing realistic sculpture. He would often carve small, fragile objects out of marble using dentist drills. Teabags, mousetraps, aviator glasses and even rolls of toilet paper were some of the things Nelson replicated.

Don McNeil, the former, full-time art curator at General Mills, says Nelson later developed an interest in the iconic Cheerios piece.

“When he looked at it, he really liked the sculpture-ness of the shape. We all think of Cheerios as these round inner tubes. They’re not,” says Don. “They’re really quite intricate and different. So Jud started doing sculptures of Cheerios, which of course, were quite small.”

Don later approached Nelson about making some bigger Cheerios. The artist was living in Florida where there was an ample supply of coral rock. The rock was similar in color and texture to Cheerios, so Nelson began carving the stuff into big pieces of the cereal.

“What he came up with was a bunch of larger-scale Cheerios – not all perfect Cheerios. He was very interested in leaving some of the marks of the stone how he found it.” Don points out, “You can see these vertical marks going down it, those are actually the drill marks that they made when they had to get in and bust up the coral.”

General Mills commissioned Cheerios for a specific courtyard where it was difficult to grow anything, because it is shaded most of the day. Don came up with the idea of creating a round setting for the sculpture.

“It’s kind of this Cheerios, bowl, Zen, garden kind-of-thing, which I really like.”

Don shares more about Jud Nelson’s Cheerios in this video interview.

The sculpture joined the company’s outdoor art collection in 2003 when General Mills re-landscaped to add two new buildings. Most of the other pieces in the collection were acquired in the 1980s when the company re-landscaped because of highway construction.

The giant cereal display is the only piece of directly related food product art in the collection.

Yet, even some employees are confused by what it is.

“I’m still struck by the fact that every once in awhile, I’ll overhear people in the hallway pointing out and talking about the bagels we have out in the garden.”

Bagels? At General Mills?

Oh well.

By the way in the winter, the snow-topped rocks are often referred to as “Frosted Cheerios.”

Editor’s note: This is the last of five posts in a series about the outdoor art at our headquarters in Minnesota. The first post was “What is that statue?” The second was “Did something fall off a UFO?” The third was “A welcoming wall of stone.” And, the fourth was “Table top.”