By Sal Maccarone
Art that is found residing in public places such as lobbies, civic centers, plazas, airports and museums, enhance the world that we live in. Not an art form in itself, public art can be abstract, or realistic, site-specific, or stand in contrast to the environment around it. It enhances the environment, and at the same time heightens the awareness of those who view it. An artist’s interpretation of how the world is seen within a community at a certain point in time, public art is there for all to enjoy!
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri can be considered as a very large piece of Public Art. This amazing stainless steel structure designed by architect Eero Saarinen was completed in 1965. At an astounding 630 feet high, it is the tallest structure in Missouri. Situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, where the country once ended, this beautiful sculpture commemorates the Louisiana Purchase, and the westward expansion.
As a piece of art that you can actually go in to, there is a unique system to ferry visitors up through the legs of the arch and on to an observation deck at the apex. It is an astounding view from up there! Several stories below the arch lies a marvelous, and very spacious visitor center. The museum area within the center has been recently renovated to include a theater, and many new interpretive displays. The Gateway Arch, and surrounding 91 acres, including many historic government buildings, were all designated as the Gateway Arch National Park in 2018: https://www.nps.gov/jeff/index.htm
The “Cloud Gate” sculpture in Chicago is a wonderful example of stand-alone public art. Affectionately named, “The Bean” by local residents, the 33′ x 66′ x 42′ centerpiece within AT&T Plaza reflects and warps everything around it. Designed by sculptor Anish Kapoor who was inspired by the properties of liquid Mercury, it is a must-go-to site for photographers. This public sculpture is so popular it has to be cleaned several times a day due to the multitude of hand prints.
On a local level, I humbly offer one of my own past efforts, the Tenaya Lodge “Old West” Bar, as an example of art within a public part of a private space. During 1989 I was privileged when asked to design, and then build the wooden bar for the then Marriott Hotel in Fish Camp. We settled upon a multi-wood western design which also incorporated four bust sculptures of historic Native American Chiefs. Of course, Chief Tenaya, for whom the Lodge was named, was one of the subjects that were chosen.
In fact, I titled the entire piece, “In the Spirit of Tenaya.” The four sculptures, which support the pediment of the back bar, were carved from local cedar with accents of eastern maple and walnut. Chief Tenaya has feathers made from an imported wood named Paduk which is vermillion in color. Paduk is similar to the color of local Flicker Bird feathers which would have been actually used in a Miwok headdress of the time. I am happy to say that “In the Spirit of Tenaya” is still greeting guests at the Tenaya Lodge thirty-one years later.