Shared from the 2/21/2021 Aiken Standard eEdition

Augusta blazes a new sculpture trail

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PHOTO BY MICHAEL BUDD

Tom Mack is pictured next to the sculpture titled “Unstoppable.”

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Cities across the globe are waking up to the benefits of public art. Not only do such works enliven the urban core for the residents themselves but they also entice visitors to spend more time (and money) in the heart of the city. Consider Zan Wells’s interactive “Mice on Main” installation in downtown Greenville, which serves as the focus of a playful scavenger hunt for children and their parents. A visit by Aiken civic leaders to Greenville a couple of years ago resulted in an increased interest in enhancing our city’s many attractions through the addition of public art, hence the mounting of such works as David Cianni’s “Atoms in Space” in front of the Savannah River Site Museum.

Augusta, our neighboring city across the river, is no stranger to public art. The downtown is already the beneficiary of some notable outdoor murals, including Cole Phail’s monumental “The History of Funk.” Winner of the James Brown Mural Project, this particular work, which covers the entire side of a building at the corner of 9th and Broad Streets, includes five portrait images, each one representative of a different phase in Brown’s legendary career.

Just this month, Augusta significantly added to the number of sculptural works in the downtown area by creating a 10 piece sculpture trail. Out of 120 submissions, the project organizers chose 10 ready-to-install works that will grace the city’s streets as part of an innovative two-year lease program.

The 10 sculptures in question – four on Augusta Common, two at the Eighth Street Bulkhead, and four on Broad between Eighth and Eleventh Streets – fit generally into two basic categories: the representational and the abstract. In some cases, they blur the lines between the two.

Among the figurative pieces are two works that follow in the footsteps of Swedish-American sculptor Claes Oldenburg, who takes everyday objects and grants them monumental status by enlarging their scale. Harry McDaniel’s “Impractical Hardware,” for example, consists of an oversized screw, bolt, nut and lock washer, all gathered in a tight circular configuration. The visual appeal of this giant assemblage of metal fasteners is enhanced by the fact that the artist has used three different metals – bronze, steel and aluminum – to fashion his hardware grouping. Craig Guy’s “Popsicles” offers a tower of frozen treats made of stuccoed steel. An inverted cherry-red popsicle balances atop a grape ice lolly that, in turn, is wedged into the side of a partially melted orange one.

Other representational pieces focus on the human form. These include a red-and-yellow enameled, welded aluminum sculpture by Gus and Lina Ocamposilva. Titled “Unstoppable,” the work features a top-hatted figure, resembling a carnival acrobat, jumping over an improbably high post; this depiction of a seemingly impossible feat makes incarnate the can-do attitude that is the essence of the American experience. Similarly, Larry Schueckler’s bronze “Maestro/Forever Young” encapsulates another inspiring moment, this one of a musical nature. This two-part installation features the seated figure of a small boy playing a wind instrument as the slightly cubist representation of an orchestra conductor appears to swirl to the melody. In this case, as the poet William Wordsworth once asserted, is the child the father to the man? Is the diminutive instrumentalist a foreshadowing of the adult professional?

Among the abstract pieces is Gregory Johnson’s polished steel “Duet,” which deconstructs the circle into intertwined geometric forms. Also on view is David Sheldon’s “Orion,” made of concentric steel circles and wheels painted white. This work, which the artist claims he constructed with a “NASA aesthetic” in mind, replicates celestial forms in interstellar motion and perhaps also the trajectory of a particular spacecraft.

Some works bridge the figurative and the abstract. “Stepped Tower” by Larry Millard, who is also responsible for the “Harrisburg Portal” on upper Broad, is composed of nine stainless steel blocks, each perforated with a square-shaped opening; the piece is thus both metal obelisk and ladder. Leonard Ursachi’s “What a Wonderful World,” is essentially an ovoid representation of Earth made of tree branches, its surface punctuated by recessed mirrors that impel the onlooker, especially if he gazes fixedly into these mirrored embrasures, to take perhaps some personal responsibility for the fate of our planet.

Finally, at first glance, Jenn Garrett’s “Invasive” would appear to be two giant flowers with pink peduncles and stamens; on closer examination, however, the silver petals, which the artist intends the viewer to read as “cell stains,” provide a second meaning to the incursion referenced in the work’s title.

Credit is due to the prime movers behind this two-year project: the City of Augusta, the Greater Augusta Arts Council, and the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau. Visit www.AugustaSculptureTrail.com for a digital map and additional information on each work. All the pieces are within easy reach of each other, and navigating the trail provides a pleasant outdoor activity at a time when the pandemic makes indoor gatherings problematic.

A recipient of the Governor’s Award in the Humanities, Dr. Tom Mack holds the rank of USC Distinguished Professor Emeritus. Of his six books to date, three are devoted to colorful local history: “Circling the Savannah,” “Hidden History of Aiken County,” and “Hidden History of Augusta.”

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