New public art to beautify our City

By Kristan Huntley

If you have stopped at the red light at the corner of Lamar and McLean and thought that the teardrop piece of vacant land on the southeast corner could be utilized for something special, you are not alone. In recent months the Urban Arts Commission, along with representatives from Rozelle School, City of Memphis, University of Memphis, and the Cooper-Young, Rozelle-Annesdale, and Glenview neighborhoods have discussed just what type of public art piece would be fitting for the location. The project was first envisioned by Stoy Bailey, a longtime resident of the Rozelle-Annesdale neighborhood and former student of the Rozelle School which used to be located at the intersection. The project expanded in scope when the Urban Arts Commission offered to provide funding for the project and began to involve the surrounding neighborhoods.

On February 8, CYCA Board President John Kinsey presented a slideshow of the final proposals from the three artists selected by the Urban Arts Commission. The three artists considered for this $80,000 sculpture project are Elisha Gold, Roy Tamboli, and Tad Laurizen Wright/Alex Harrison. To ensure that residents could ask questions and provide honest feedback to the CYCA, the artists were not invited to attend the General Meeting. The Urban Arts Commission was invited to speak but was unable to attend.

The first artist to be presented was Roy Tamboli and his sculpture entitled Solomon’s Spindle.  Tamboli’s inspiration came from two sources: Solomon Rozelle, who in 1819 moved his family to a sixteen hundred acre tract of land at what is now Lamar and McLean, and the symbolism of a spindle that is an “energy center from which the fabric of community is woven.” Solomon’s Spindle, in Tamboli’s vision, would act as a permanent geographical tool that would be useful in directing people to the neighboring communities and add some vibrancy and color in an otherwise plain space. He would also incorporate industrial and recycled objects from the neighboring communities into the final work. It would be a tall piece, towering 37 feet high, and easily visible from all directions.

The second proposal that was presented was John Henry by Elisha (Eli) Gold. Gold was inspired by the railway lines that run past the Lamar and McLean intersections and felt that these railway lines tied the neighborhoods in the area together. He therefore chose the figure of John Henry, the railroad worker who is legendary for having outperformed a steam-powered drill, as his sculpture topic. Gold feels that his sculpture of John Henry represents the idea that a man is larger than the sum of his parts. The sculpture incorporates the forms of a man, a steam-powered drill, and a train, all visible from different angles. According to Gold’s proposal, “From the Southern Ave. overpass, viewers will see the detail of John Henry’s upper body, which will be made of train spike heads welded together. Drivers exiting Southern Ave. onto Mclean Blvd. will get a closer look at the steam train engine and freight train engine that make up his left leg. Viewers stopped at the McLean/Lamar traffic light will get a direct view of John Henry’s right leg, composed of the steam drill that he defeated.” The piece is to be approximately 16 feet tall.

The last proposal that was presented at the General Meeting was the submission from Tad Lauritzen Wright and Alex Harrison. Their proposal is for four half-scale shotgun homes and one old-style school building to be fashioned out of stainless steel, painted with high-quality outdoor paints, and finished with a graffiti-resistant coating. These would be secured by and fastened to concrete foundation pillars organized in a pattern on the vacant land. The panels will be different colors on each side so that the view is interesting and engaging from all angles and from all streets. They feel that the shotgun homes and school represent the communities that surround the location as well as the original structure that occupied the space, namely Rozelle School.

Residents offered very constructive feedback and shared some of their concerns, information which has been shared with the Urban Arts Commission for their reference and consideration.  The final artist is still being decided, but we’re excited to have a public art piece of such visibility coming soon!


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