By Tiara Baker
It’s not the wealth of a neighborhood that truly matters; rather, it is the rich exchanges of a community’s denizens that give it its true value.
Local sculptor Tylur French says that’s one of the characteristics that make Cooper-Young a special home for his family and his art.
“Cooper –Young really has a wonderful, creative, neighborhood feel and a lot of community texture,” French says.
A resident of the Cooper-Young neighborhood for nearly 15 years, French is a rising household name known for his works of art in all corners of the city, from murals at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital downtown to sculptures at East Memphis’ Cancer Survivors Park.
But home is where the heart is for this local artist. In fact, it was the effort of the Revolutions Bicycle Co-op, located in Cooper-Young, that was largely instrumental in raising the donations for one of French’s latest projects, the Bike Gate in Overton Park.
You may have seen the gate, which opened in April. Indeed, it is hard to miss it. Situated at the intersection of East Parkway and Sam Cooper Boulevard, the colorful, 27,000-pound structure is capped by an arch constructed from 300 used, brightly painted bicycles.
The gate marks the entrance to Overton Park’s new bike and pedestrian plaza. Beneath the arch a 350-foot-long, 12-foot-wide concrete trail — dotted with benches, water fountains, and gathering spots — swerves through trees to connect the plaza to the park’s car-free trails. The gate is also the connector between the 342-acre park and the Hampline, a two-mile trail that will link it to the Shelby Farms Greenline
But the Bike Gate is not just a lifeless arch of non-functioning bicycles. French says that for many donors, the arch serves as a hub of immortalization.
“It reached unspoken groups at the right place, at the right time,” he explains
As the project evolved, so did the priorities, as it became important to create an iconic-community landmark for joy and uplift. But for French the gate is as much about the many people who helped make it possible. It preserves the selflessness of the married couple who gave their bikes, which were the only salvageable items they had left after a fire burned their home to ashes. And of a loving father who donated bicycles to pay homage to the memory of his daughter’s cousin and her short-lived childhood.
Some of the people instrumental in the gate’s construction are honored with inscriptions on pavers and benches in the plaza.
“These are the stories most people (who pass the Bike Gate) wouldn’t know,” says French.
French’s passion for sculpting meaningful works of art carries over to his home life in Cooper-Young, where his wife and 3 kids know him as just dad. In addition to several home improvements, French says he recently built a dining room table made of various doors that he collected from the neighborhood as a gift for his wife, Astrid.
So when asked about the key to his success, French says he tries not to separate work from what he loves to do.
“I just love to build one of a kind objects in one of a kind environments.”
To learn more about Tylur French and his projects, visit his website at www.tylur.com.