Artwork to grace downtown Washington

Published 6:34 pm Monday, April 3, 2017

Area artists are using their talents to transform unappealing alleys in downtown Washington into artwalks of sorts.

The alley artwork, created by Maryalice Johnston and Allan Weaver, is a result of a $10,000 Main Street Grant that Arts of the Pamlico received to introduce art in the city’s downtown. The grant is part of the larger $94,340 grant the city received to enhance the city’s central business district.

“Over a two-month period, after it was announced that we would be working on this, we explored varying options, including tile concrete forms, painted benches, outdoor musical instruments and metal artwork. In concert with the City of Washington, we developed a public art project that would provide a high-quality art installation that would fit within the budget, engage local artists and companies and using state funds to complete the project,” Debra Torrence, executive director of Arts of the Pamlico, told the City Council during its meeting Monday.

Torrence, in subsequent interview, said each alley getting the artwork is getting a new moniker: ARTery. An ARTery serves as a connector to entice people on the waterfront to Main Street and vice-versa, she said.

Johnston and Advanced Metal Fabrications, a Washington-based business, designed the partial archways to use as the infrastructure for a display of metal cut-out fish and tulips made from three types of metal: steel, aluminum and carbon, according to an Arts of the Pamlico project overview. Johnston used Pamlico River fish species, such as “jumping mullet,” as inspiration for the fish cutouts. “She also designed tulips to reflect on the history of Washington’s tulip festival,” reads the document.

Johnston, who painted the fish, is painting the tulips with metallic paint, which picks up light at night and natural light during the day, providing an active display at any time, according to the overview. There are 12 fish cutouts and 12 tulip cutouts. They are painted in East Carolina University colors, purple and gold, according to Torrence.

Oak Ridge Industries, located at the Washington-Beaufort County Industrial Park, made the cut-outs, which will hang from the metal archways in the Harris Lane alley that begins at the building housing the Bardot hair salon and runs to Stewart Parkway and the waterfront. Advanced Metal Fabrications is providing at least 10 archways in a classic, black-paint style to blend in with downtown’s historic look, according to the overview. Seven archways will be installed along Harris Lane.

The Harris Lane alley part of the project is designed to provide a lighted corridor from Main Street to the waterfront.

“We kind of threw out ideas of doing things that were on Main Street and there were other things that were kind of happening. What we did was say how could we use funds to support infrastructure for this public art installation but also future art installations,” Torrence said. “So the way this is designed is you can put other things on the end of these (archways). … It was kind of a combination of how can we create public art but then also how can we create light in the alleyways in a pretty way. The way this is designed, it will allow us to change out artwork.”

Torrence said the fish would be displayed first, followed by the tulips and other artwork as it is developed.

Dylan Ritch, Arts of the Pamlico’s children’s programmer, coordinates the downtown project. “I spoke with both of the metal artisans and the artists themselves about what we needed. I organized the dates for everything to come in. I created the budget for it. … I sort of followed the project through its evolvement to make sure it got up and running.”

The sculptures that Weaver designed will hang public arts space behind the Turnage Theatre and facing Rachel K’s Bakery. The outline sculptures, painted in blue and silver Pamlico Sound colors, will include one depicting paint brushes and an artist’s palette, another depicting a dancer, another showing a saxophone and theatre masks representing comedy and tragedy. Rope lights will illuminate them at night.

“It had to be simple, straightforward,” Weaver said of his approach to creating his artwork for the project. … I was thinking if I could take some wire, make profiles and put stuff together. It was kind of a happening. I took some roof flashing and added pieces to it. That’s what we have and how it got there.”

Johnston said when she moved to Washington and noticed the alleys, she thought they had potential to become avenues of art.

“I would say it happened by chance,” Johnston said about how she became involved with the project. “I met with Debra for lunch last fall. She started talking about the alleyways and what she would like to do. I don’t know if I said I would love to be involved or if she just asked. That’s how we got started, basically.”

Johnston is excited to be part of the project, which she believes will get attention once it debuts. “I think it will grow from there,” she said.

If additional funding is obtained, Torrence said, the project would be expanded by adding additional cutouts and sculptures. “We’d use a similar structure and do more artwork around town. … It’s a design that can go anywhere.”

From the $10,000 grant, $6,800 was used to compensate the artists. The bill for fabricating the artwork, buying the hardware to hang the artwork and install the archways and related items came to $1,356.43, which went to local businesses.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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