RAMBLING ROSCOE: Poultry praises public art

PHOTO:  Sisyphus, by Wendy Ross. Photo by Mary Ellsworth.

RAMBLING ROSCOEMARY ELLSWORTH and ANNE KAISER   

We are in the last days of December, and Takoma Park’s resolute rooster, Roscoe is feeling the holiday spirit.

He’s also thinking back to his last ramble in the fall over to Silver Spring to visit art in public places. (summer, fall, winter – would this be considered poultry seasoning?) Here he is to bring you his commentaires de poulet one last time. Roscoe would continue to do more reporting but, winter is upon us and it’s hard to find a good bicycling chauffeur in cold weather, or so he says. We strongly suspect it is Roscoe who is the poltroonish one here.

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As he did last time, Roscoe first read up on how art came to be in so many public spaces around Silver Spring. He rooted out how Montgomery County, under the Montgomery County Public Art Guidelines, has promoted significant works of public art in Silver Spring and other cities through private developer projects.  

Our plucky reporter has learned that public art is also created through taxpayer-supported funds.  The Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County (AHCMC) manages a program known as  The Public Arts Trust, which “aims to build and inspire communities through place-making and to nurture artists engaged in public art.”  Montgomery County has over 300 pieces of public art, all on County-owned properties.  Public art funding dates back to the 1970’s, when a county-wide program was started to fund art as a percentage of capital projects.  

In 1995 the Council adopted an updated law that requires that .05 % of each fiscal year’s total capital expenditures (the sum of expenditures for MC government, Public Schools, Montgomery College and Park & Planning)  be considered for public art. As Roscoe was heard to comment, “That’s not chicken feed!”

The Voice is proud to again present Roscoe’s travel journal. Roscoe eggs readers on to pause and take a closer look at these sculptures as they pass by. This time Roscoe visited seven sculptures in upper-downtown Silver Spring, plus the new Silver Spring library. Some portions of the art descriptions below are quoted from the Arts and Entertainment pages of Discover Silver Spring.

Welcome Signs of Silver Spring

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Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 1.35.30 AM  Well flap my wattle! – I’ve found the Silver Spring.  But I’m too late – it’s been hard-boiled. At least spring water looks nice in this form. I got my innards all in a flap just getting up here. You might call me plucky, but I’m just helping out with the welcome.  Hallooo Everybody!  Welcome to Silver Spring! 

As you enter Downtown Silver Spring going south on Georgia Ave you are greeted by this welcome sign at the corner of Georgia Ave and Spring Street. This is one of four pieces made in 2005, and placed at each of the four corners of the central business district by the Silver Spring Urban District. They were designed by Gary Stith, Regional Director at the time.  

The structures aren’t exactly public art (they are called “monument signs” in the industry), but they are such an iconic part of Silver Spring public space we decided to include them here. Their design was developed from the Silver Spring logo that was part of the original Silver Spring Wayfinding Plan.  

The Juggler

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Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 1.35.30 AM  Did you see something go pasteurize? That was just me, visiting this banty little fellow who seemed to be waiting for me, so I flew right in for a chat. Was I supposed to land on the stick or his hand? Went for his hand – too chicken to try for that skinny stick. When I landed I didn’t upset his balance one bit. He’s pretty good on that one wheel – he won’t go over easy.

In an urban setting at Woodside Park this whimsical juggler in top hat and tails stands ready to entertain. The almost life-sized Dickensian character is one of Bethesda artist Marcia Billig’s 19 sculptures located in Montgomery County.  It was commissioned in 1989 for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.  

The Juggler was first made of clay, then cast in bronze and took 9 months to complete. Though he had two hoops to juggle when he was created, “The Juggler” has no hoops today. The hoop in his left hand broke and was repaired once, then broke again at some point, and both have apparently been removed.

In a 2005 Gazette article Billig is quoted: “I wanted the place to be inviting and welcoming to the community.  I noticed a lot of children of all ages came to play there and I wanted something that would just be a greeter.”

Though Billig said she didn’t know it when she created the sculpture, there was a man who used to ride a unicycle around Silver Spring.  He came to the unveiling of the art on his unicycle.

Alba Rosa

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Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 1.35.30 AM I heard there was a work crew looking for a chicken to have over for lunch.  Not one to pass up a free lunch, of course I got right over there.  They looked me over quizzically, mumbling something about “sandwiches” and “where’s the knife.” ( er … are they licking their chops?)  Suddenly I got the feeling something had been lost in translation … did they want to HAVE a chicken for lunch?  I didn’t look back – just high tailed it out of there.   

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Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 1.35.30 AM  I came back later to get a closer look.  This time I didn’t see any hungries around. This piece has certainly given me something to reflect on.  

If Roscoe had stayed a bit longer he might have noticed the more interesting features of this work named Alba Rosa, which literally means “red morning” in Italian.  Wedged between two tall buildings, the only time the sun strikes Alba Rosa and its fountain is in the morning, when the sun bounces off the water running down the face of this lovely granite fountain.

The symbolism of the artwork deals with the primordial objects of life.  The sun, the column, and the arch are all created from the oldest and most traditional sculpture materials, bronze and granite. The striations across the disc were cut on-site and represent clouds crossing the sun. They enhance the flow of water down the surface of the disc.

Sculpted by Joseph Anthony McDonnell, Rosa Alba was commissioned by Montgomery County. Aug. 1988. The piece, marking the entrance to the County garage at 1325 Fenwick Ln, is made of polished pink granite and bronze, in a concrete water basin.

The Three Suns

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Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 1.35.30 AM  From up here on this bird’s wing, I could see the cars zooming by on Colesville Road. I bet a lot of people have never noticed these three stalwart guys.  I perched up here to get the view of the traffic below.  Maybe the title should now be Four Sons. Remember – trying to enjoy art while driving is a bit like texting while driving. Please watch the road. You never know when a rooster might try to cross to get to the other side.

The Three Sons, made of bronze and steel, stand stouthearted and 10 feet tall at 8737 Colesville Road. The piece was erected in 1985.  Artist Naum Knop learned the art of woodcarving from his father, a cabinetmaker from Ukraine.  After studying at the Belgrano National School of Fine Art in Buenos Aires, Knop spent the next 50 years creating sculptures that are on display all over Europe and the Americas.  

The Three Suns monument displayed in Silver Spring reflects the three stages of a man’s life and the generations of son, father and grandfather.  It might just be Roscoe’s favorite.  

Sisyphus

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Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 1.35.30 AM Where is the chicken who laid these eggs?  I want to meet her.  She must be awesome because these eggs are so awesome … if I can just keep this one from rolling down this hill.  Wha … ? You say we have to move on now?  But I need to take care of … Hey, this feels useless and endlessly frustrating ….

Entitled Sisyphus after the Greek myth, Wendy Ross’s steel orbs grace the yard in front of Cameron House, at 8710 Cameron Street.  In mythology, King Sisyphus believed himself as clever as Zeus and as a punishment for his pride and trickery, was made to endlessly roll a huge boulder up a steep hill. Zeus enchanted the boulder to roll away from King Sisyphus before he reached the top which cursed him to an eternity of useless efforts and unending frustration.  

Sisyphus was installed in 2011, and is one Ross’s many sculptures. Her pieces have been exhibited in institutions and public settings as far-flung and disparate as the Neuberger Museum in Purchase, New York, The Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, and Saipan in the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands.  

Another Ross installation of welded-steel orbs hangs over the exit to the Mt. Vernon Square Metro station at Seventh and M streets NW.  We are fortunate to have a Wendy Ross sculpture in Silver Spring.

Genetic Overpass

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Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 1.35.30 AM  It’s a bird! – It’s a plane! – No it’s a DNA molecule!  On Cameron Street I glanced upward and saw an incredible DNA molecule spanning the blue sky above.  I wonder how many folks pass by here and don’t even see that!  I was knocked back on my heels!  

Wow – it’s a gigantic model of the very DNA that links me back to my great-great-great-great-great-great and more greats ancestor, Tyrannosaurus rex, that over-grown turkey bird I just had a chat with over in the lobby of the Discovery Communications. Yeah that’s me roosting there by his left back claw … I was feeling pretty low on the pecking order just about then.   

The Cameron Street pedestrian overpass between two buildings of United Therapeutic (UT) Corporation boasts a reconstruction of a DNA molecule incorporated into it’s design.  The spectacular UT courtyard on Cameron is a place full of science surprises, where you can catch a night time showing of a science movie on the Bio Wall, or watch the DNA inspired light show on the UT bridge. You can kick back and relax on unique sculptural seating designed by artist Elizabeth Cabeza and enjoy harmonious music playing in the night. There is a water feature, artworks, and nicely integrated plantings.  

Before you leave, use your phone to read the QR codes on the top of each of the courtyard lights, they each represent a different element.  Designers of the plaza at Schick Goldstein Architects have created a rare find – an attractive pocket park in downtown Silver Spring.

Roscoe also stopped briefly in the lobby of Discovery Communications at 1 Discovery Place and Georgia Ave, where he took a minute to confer with Stan the Tyrannosaurus Rex. The big skeleton is from a dinosaur that roamed America 65 to 67 million years ago.  He is named after Stan Sacrison, the man who discovered the T. rex.  Stan can be seen through the windows of the lobby, standing 40 feet long, 20 feet high (12 feet from the hips) and weighing a massive 5 to 7 tons.

Visitors to the lobby must sign in at the front door for admittance, but this great hall of exhibits is all free.

Crescent

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Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 1.35.30 AM   Well I’ll be a city chicken. This shade is just the thing on a hot afternoon to keep me from becoming a roasted chicken. If only the hens could see how cool I am, now!  

Crescent is an 85’ long pergola in front of the Crescent residential apartment building, and is the work of Baltimore artist David Hess.  The organic composition of the piece is meant to contrast with the adjacent building, with simple curving lines that are suspended by only four points.  

The graceful stainless steel structure casts shadows upon the ground as the sun reaches its zenith.  David Hess himself compares the striking work to a hammock.  Crescent was installed in 2006 at 930 Wayne Ave.  It is made of stainless steel and is 85 feet long, 35’ wide, and 22’ high.

Silver Spring Library

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Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 1.35.30 AM  My chicken-hearted chauffeurs said they’d had enough art for one day – imagine!  Before I let them put this chicken to bed I shanghaied them into the new Silver Spring library for a little gander around.  Hey there wasn’t anything like this in the barnyard when I was a spring chick!  

A very young man, Thomas, helped me take stock of the children’s pen.  Clearly he has spent a lot of time here – he was crowing about his favorite coop over there.  He insisted on carrying me the whole time, but a couple times I had to remind him which way was sunny side up!  

The new Silver Spring library at 900 Wayne Ave. was opened in June 20, 2015.  The facility was built to straddle the digital and print ages, “embracing the former without forsaking the latter.”  All the 21st-century equipment is there: charging stations, media labs, 3-D printers and an Apple Store-style tech bar where staff will offer help and lend iPads.  There are also 100,000 print volumes, twice the number available at the old Silver Spring library on Colesville Road, which closed in March 2015 after 58 years. Community members made it clear they were not ready to give up on books.

The building, designed by architect Bill Evans of the Lukmire Partnership, is a state-of-the-art facility with energy efficient glass, heating and cooling, a green roof, space for arts organizations, public meeting rooms, as well as media and technology centers.

The Library occupies the third, fourth and fifth floors of the building in approximately 65,00 square feet of space. The top (fifth) floor is for kids, with a spacious activity room, artist-created shelf end panels and colorful activity boards in the early-childhood learning center.

Kefa Cafe

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Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 1.35.30 AM  After that feather ruffling upstairs, I stopped on the first floor of the library at Kefa Cafe where Alexandra served me a delicious cherry tart. Cluckin’ Capons!  I like cherries even better than crickets! And I really do like to end our sculpture tours with a treat.  I tossed two of those tarts down my craw in no time!

On the first floor of the new Silver Spring Library, near the Fenton Street entrance, library patrons will find an escalator pavilion and Kefa Cafe. The well-known local Silver Spring coffee shop has a stand inside the building where they serve high quality organic coffee, light sandwiches, pastries and juices.  The Cafe and the library keep the same hours of operation.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 1.35.30 AM Since this is our last stop, and our last art tour, I just want to say cock-a-doodle-doo folks! I hope you’ll round up the flock and go check out Silver Spring’s great public art. You’ll lose your head over it!   And you know it’s no joke when you hear those words from a chicken.

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