“I just thought it was funny to see wildflowers caged inside a little prison,” says Ben Thomas.

Lower Town residents, business owners, and drivers passing by the corner of Maiden Lane and Broadway were treated this summer to a mysterious art installation attached to the chain-link fence surrounding the 6.4-acre vacant neighborhood prairie that was once supposed to be Broadway Village. “One day it wasn’t; the next day it was,” recalls neighbor and First Ward councilmember Sabra Briere.

Briere sent a photo and one-sentence description of the art to the Ann Arbor Chronicle on June 14, but, when asked recently who created it, Briere said, “I wish I could tell you, but I don’t have any idea.”

Nearby potter Kay Yourist and resident Irena Nagler also had no clue about the art’s origins. Another neighbor, John Hinchey, the Observer’s events editor, noted that the phrase spelled out on the fence in wooden shims–“I’m going to break my rusty cage and run”–is from the song “Rusty Cage,” written by Chris Cornell for the rock group Soundgarden and later covered by Johnny Cash on his album Unchained.

A note left on the fence was answered by U-M grad student Ben Thomas. Thomas explains that the quote and its punctuation–a flower-headed doll, posed to run–were created last spring. In a graphic design class, he was assigned to create a piece over a weekend that abided by the rules of typography, with each letter spaced a set distance apart from the others. Thomas, who’d heard the Johnny Cash version of “Rusty Cage,” spelled out the line in carpenter’s shims tied together with fishing line. Then he added the orange-jumpsuited character he calls “Floyd,” in the role of the renegade wildflower escaping the fenced lot.

Thomas planned to take the installation down the next weekend but never got around to it as he shuttled back and forth between his family home in Wisconsin and Ann Arbor digs this summer. However, he says with satisfaction, “It’s been getting a lot of love on the corner.” Persons unknown repaired the installation, realigning and reattaching the letters and Floyd with twist ties, at least four times this summer. Though battered by heavy rains over the Labor Day weekend, it was still there as the Observer went to press.

Before attaching Floyd to his fence-prison, Thomas and his friends treated the figure to a Flat Stanley-like journey, “We took him around town, and photographed him running down the railroad tracks and sipping coffee at Sweetwaters,” says Thomas.