In what its creators call “a symbol of invasive hope,” a giant aluminum and stainless steel dandelion will soar 40 feet above Salem Parkway in downtown Winston-Salem, in an art installation that will also include metal yellow dandelion bouquets on the Church Street bridge .
The Winston-Salem City Council recently approved spending $1 million to have a city-based Elephant in the Room create and install the sculptures as part of the effort to turn the renovated downtown freeway into an iconic gateway to the city.
Elephant in the Room, managed and owned by Chad Cheek and operating downtown since 2005, won’t out over some 25 design firms from all over the country with its proposal, which was approved unanimously by the city’s Public Art Commission on June 7.
Cheek’s company is teaming with Stitch Design Shop, Viator Design and Construction and architect Drew Gerstmyer on the project, which was presented to and endorsed by the city council’s Finance Committee on June 13, and approved by the full city council on June 21.
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“In addition to the pieces of art displayed, we have included the opportunity to create miniature versions of these pieces that can be distributed throughout the rewards,” Cheek told the Finance Committee. “That is included in the budget.”
The renderings shown to the committee are concept illustrations and not the final designs, but they show the 40-foot-tall dandelion rising from the grass beside the ramps on the north side of the interchange between Salem and Peters Creek parks. The structure must still be approved by the NC Department of Transportation.
The dandelion is designed to have already lost some of its seeds, which would be distributed around other grassy parts of the intersection as separate smaller sculptures.
The bouquet sculptures on the Church Street bridge would be bright yellow, representing the dandelion in its flowering stage and positioned midway across the bridge on each side. They would stand 12 feet tall on brushed aluminum stems.
Although the dandelion is considered an invasive plant, the designer in this case uses that aspect to illustrate what is called an organic connection between the past and the future:
“In the future, beautiful flowers will result from the seeds of ideas that land and are cultivated,” the designers said in their submission.
The sphere at the top of the sculpture at Peters Creek Parkway will be 16 feet in diameter, with 120 laser-cut aluminum seeds that will capture the sunlight during the day and illuminate at night.
The designers said they were looking for something that would change in shape as viewers pass by, and would look different to drivers going east or west. They said they wanted a design that would make an impact on first encounter, but also one that would “surprise and delight upon each subsequent encounter.”
The designers said they wanted their sculptures to express unity, diversity and love, showing that “the hope of our future is beautiful and invasive.”
During discussion on the Finance Committee, DD Adams, the council member for North Ward, said it is important that the art be spread to the eastern side of the city as well.
“How important it is, when we go to other cities and see all this iconic art,” Adams said.
That prompted Cheek’s remark that the budget includes smaller versions of the dandelion to spread to various parts of the city.
Other iconic elements that have contributed to the appearance of Salem Parkway in the wake of its $100-million renovation include the arches of the Green Street pedestrian bridge, planting on the Strollway bridge, and the arches that rise over the intersection of US 52 and research parkway on the approach downtown from the south.
Designers said the new sculptures would be easy to maintain, requiring little to no maintenance or light pressure-washing.