Rutland’s Public Art

Rutland is a small town in Vermont of just over 15,000 residents incorporated in 1892. At one point, it was a major railroad hub for local marble quarries. Its past and present is clearly reflected in its public art.

Instead of the fiberglass sculptures I stumble upon in many cities, in Rutland, I discovered a series of marble sculptures featuring important people from Rutland. The people honored in the sculptures I found are Paul Harris, founder of the first Rotary club; Andrea Mead Lawrence, an Olympic skier; William G. Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous; the immigrants who worked in the quarries; and Martin Henry Freeman, an African American educator and abolitionist.

Today, Rutland has a strong environmental and arts focus. In my wanderings, I discovered two sculptures from the Trash2Art series, one from the HeART of Rutland series, and several murals. The mural of whales was particularly eye-catching given that the ocean is hours away. I wondered about the choice of subject until I saw the closest cross street was called Wales Street. The moose just up the street were almost as elusive as real moose – despite multiple trips to Vermont and one to Alaska, I have yet to see a live moose.

Visualizing the Wealth Gap: Halloween Edition

Every year, I look forward to the giant, inflatable dragon airing its wings in Beechview. It is the largest decoration in a small yard overflowing with inflatable ghosts and a giant spider, a witch on a broom, lights, pumpkins, and leaves. Many neighborhoods vie for the best and most prolific displays of Christmas lights. If there were a similar contest for Halloween, this modest-sized house with the dragon seems to me the cream of the crop in a neighborhood with a prolific smorgasbord of Halloween lights and decorations.

This year, I discovered a possible competitor for the title in Shadyside along Pittsburgh’s most intact millionaire’s row. On a lawn that is probably bigger than the footprint of the dragon house is an elaborate, customized ghost wedding. Across the street on a slightly smaller lawn, an 8-10 ft high, gleaming, ceramic clown holds court over a multitude of companions (minions?) of similar sinister and expensive cast.

On seeing these displays, my stomach sank. I felt a loss and a disappointment that this neighborhood may steal the crown for best Halloween decorations due to the unfair advantage of having more disposable wealth. I suppose it really comes down to what is the measure for determining the winning neighborhood: quantity, quality, per capita, density, creativity, or exuberance.

Inclusionary Wealth

Amid writing my posts about how the wealth gap manifests itself in the built environment and the morality of unequal economic investment in cities, I took another trip to Chicago. I spent most of my stay in the downtown areas within a mile of Grant Park. I love the old stone buildings, established green parks, ornate fountains, and modern glass skyscrapers with interesting architectural embellishments. Yet this trip, I felt hypocritical as I walked around soaking it all in. All these elements that I enjoy are the result of significant financial outlay that I know is not evenly distributed throughout the city. So where was my moral indignation at this display of deeply entrenched wealth unequally spread?

Chicago’s display of wealth isn’t gaudy like Tijuana or Las Vegas. The message I absorb in places like those with their flashing lights is “come on in, so we can suck all the money out of your pockets.” Chicago businesses identified their presence on the street with regular signs leaving it up to the passers to decide whether to engage.

One bar did add a layer of enticement to their sidewalk advertising. I was searching for a place for dinner, with this bar in mind as the one that looked most appealing from Google maps. I was looking around to see if there were any other better options. The smell of the burgers from this first bar convinced me that it was the best option in that vicinity. It was only after I had sat down and ordered that I realized the smell wasn’t coming from the open window, but rather it came from pipes pumping the kitchen smells to the sidewalk. Still it was a subtle inducement and unlike flashing lights it did not have a nefarious undertone.

By pumping out the smell to the sidewalk, it also felt indiscriminate. Anyone passing was invited to enjoy. This was unlike my experience in Cardiff where if I couldn’t afford the items in the business, I felt I shouldn’t be walking past in the public space. I never felt like I didn’t belong in Chicago. There were economic barriers to certain experiences, but those places that I encountered still did not feel exclusionary. One example is the lounge on the 96th floor of Chicago’s Hancock Building. The stunning views are only accessible to those who can afford a $17 cocktail, but those who can afford one only once in a blue moon were just as welcome as those who can afford one or more every night.

In Chicago, I never saw that strong line, as in Tijuana and Cardiff, that divided those with and those without financial resources.  Everywhere I went, there was a mix of people with different economic statuses, skin colors, and first languages. This diversity gave me the feeling that anyone is welcome to enjoy the well-maintained investment in public spaces with or without hitting a minimum financial threshold.

Seven Generations

One sculpture in Harrisburg’s riverfront park grabbed my mind like no other. Seven silhouettes each cut out of the other lined up in a row.  Looking at it head on, it appeared to be one silhouette.  The effect of their joining together and breaking apart as I passed mesmerized me.

I didn’t want to spoil the effect by learning hard facts about it from any plaque that may have been with it, so I continued on my way.  Yet, the sculpture stayed with me, begging questions I barely knew how to form.  I began to wonder what the artist intended.  My curiosity was unexpected rewarded while I waited for my train home.  The walls of the station had some posters which I read to pass the time.  Turns out they were a guide to the sculptures in the park.  The piece that had engaged me was a reference to the Iroquois stewardship policy to consider the effect any decision would have on the next seven generations before making a choice.

Seven generations.

That would be my great, great, great, great, great grandchildren.

None of the trees my great, great, great, great grandfather and his father-in-law encountered while establishing their homesteads in Western Pennsylvania still stand.  Though it has been sold outside the family, the house my Cross ancestor built is still occupied.  How many of the new buildings I have approved for Zoning in the last four years will still stand seven generations from now?  Will they even survive for two generations?

How many of the next seven generations will be outlived by the plastic bag I brought home from the grocery store because I forgot my reusable bags?

What will happen to the latest gadget that will become obsolete in a year or so?  What will happen to all the energy and waste that went into creating it and then destroying it?

I’ve sometimes heard people question what kind of world they are leaving their children and grandchildren, perhaps even their great grandchildren, but no further than that.  What would happen if we set our sights a little bit further–a few more generations out?

Cleveland Guitars

As I mentioned in my Maps Are Awesome! post, I intended to walk over some of Cleveland’s bridges, but got distracted.  First I got distracted with some of the artwork on the street, such as the sculpture and fire hydrant below.


Then I got distracted by the gardens and the way the vacant property was dressed up as discussed in my Oh, Cleveland! post.  I also became fascinated by the map kiosk scattered throughout downtown (see Maps Are Awesome!).  Finally, and probably what clinched the deal, was the Guitar Mania.  Guitar Mania is one of the latest of fiberglass art fundraisers put together by a city.  In these fundraisers, a figure that is iconic to the city is chosen and artists decorate each uniquely and they are displayed all over the city.  After a certain time period of being on public display, these sculptures are auctioned off and the money goes to support charities and such.  An article I found online about Cleveland’s Guitar Mania mentions a few of the other cities that have done this, though they left out Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh has actually done this twice now.  First was Penguins on Parade in 2002.  This was followed by DinoMite Days in 2003.  Though I haven’t seen a penguin since they were publicly on display in 2002, some of the dinosaurs can still be spotted around the city, mostly on corporate or institutional properties, but at least one is in someone’s private yard.  Other cities were I have personally experienced these kinds of events are Willimatic, CT, which had frogs sitting on spools (the city symbol due to a pre-Revolutionary War legend about frogs and the city and the city’s past as the headquarters of the largest thread company in the world) and Mystic, CT, which did whales.

However, getting back to Cleveland, this was the first time I was in a city while the statues were on public display and when I had the freedom to hunt for them.  I intended to still get to a bridge; however, I kept getting sidetracked as I spotted a guitar down one street or another.  In the end, I found 19 of the 100 guitars and photographed 18 and I decided it was a much better use of my time as the bridges will still be there the next time I’m in Cleveland, but the guitars will not be.  Later, I noticed a couple of decorated fiberglass Chinese dragon sculptures, but as I was passing in the car I was not able to take photos of them.  It turns out that Cleveland is doing a separate display of the Chinese dragons (see website, with link to locations) in addition to the guitar event.