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Exhibit shows patrons what goes into public art commissions


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Photo by Wanda Jackson. Valerie Theberge's proposal for public art installation at the Rockville Town Center.

Photo by Wanda Jackson. Valerie Theberge's proposal for public art installation at the Rockville Town Center.

Published on: Wednesday, October 09, 2013

By Wanda Jackson

In the ceiling at Cheverly Health Center, there’s a floating garden.

Mind you, not the type of garden that requires a green thumb. But, rather an artist’s creative brilliance.

It’s public art.

At Cheverly’s Health Center, Mary Mears’ “Floating Garden” is a gigantic hanging mobile. Twenty-three welded aluminum forms ranging from two to eight feet wide are attached to five custom rolled polished stainless steel tubes, ranging from one-and-a-half to two inches in diameter and 10 to 20 feet long.

At the South Bowie Branch Library, Roger W. Stoller’s large-scale, signature nature-themed sculpture, “Luminous Oak” is front-and-center on a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace.

At the Bunker Hill Fire Station, Ayokule Odeleye’s 12-foot tall stainless steel sculpture titled “Three Guardians” stands on a circular concrete pad between the building and thoroughfare. Engraved plaques bear five town seals and three quotes. Stainless steel benches extend a lifetime welcome.

Public art is so diverse and far-reaching.

It can be a mural, sculpture or other three-dimensional art in a public place.

A new exhibit at Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mount Rainier provides a behind-the-scenes look at how works are first envisioned and what it takes to create artwork for a public space.

“Public Art Concepts: An Exhibit of Proposals” runs through Nov. 22 and features 10 regional and national artists’ proposals — drawings, scale models, letters to agencies and other material that typically goes into making effective pitches for project funding. Some of the proposals were awarded grants and commissions, some were not. Valerie Theberge’s display details her 15-foot glass and gold tile, mosaic fountain installed at the Rockville Town Center.

In her artist statement, Theberge notes that she creates “work that is on the surface cemented and immovable. Although I am drawn to solidity and permanence, I aim to create a sense of fluidity and dynamism.”

Theberge’s artwork “begins with light, free drawings on a small scale.” She enlarges the drawings from 8 inches to 8 feet, then uses the drawings as a blueprint for her work. She uses simple materials, such as glass or metal. She outlines her drawings in keeping “with the momentum and force” of her small-scale works, sometimes joining thousands of tiny pieces “like thousands of tiny cells effortlessly forming together to create substance.”

Joanna Blake chose to display two three-dimensional plaster reliefs submitted for a design competition by the City of Alexandria for The Contrabands and Freedmen’s Memorial, “a sacred site dedicated to honoring the more than 1,800 people of African descent who were buried in the cemetery during and immediately following the Civil War.”

Blake’s plaster reliefs depict the dignity, determination and courage of Alexandria’s freed men, women and children. In one, education is a central theme and the other captures the struggle for freedom.

Blake’s plaster and metal sculptures titled “Clouds” hang from the ceiling at Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville.

Other artists featured in the exhibit at Joe’s Emporium are: Alan Binstock, Margaret Boozer, Howard Connelly, Alonzo Davis, Melissa Glasser, Martha Jarvis Jackson, Luis Peralta and from the Washington Glass Studio, Erwin Timmers, Tim Tate and Michael Janis.

Joe’s Emporium also hosted an exhibit opening and panel discussion on Sept. 27 with public arts administrators from the Washington, D.C. metro area. It was an opportunity for artists and the community to heighten awareness about artworks throughout the area.

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