Tile Sculpture Moving To New Home – July 5, 2012
Kevin L. Hoover
11TH & F STREETS – Sometime soon, maybe this week, the tile sculpture which has stood for 18 years at 11th and F streets will be gone. While the tiles still boast vibrant colors, the sculpture never fulfilled its original mission and is now complicating plans for the plot of land it occupies.
Created in 1994 by sculptor/artist Caren Wise and students enrolled in Humboldt State’s Upward Bound (UB) program, the sculpture was intended as a base for a fountain at what was the Arcata First Presbyterian Church’s community garden. The octagonal cylinder is encrusted with colorful tiles created by volunteers, with a hose bib peeking out from the base.
A front page photo headlined “Colorful display” on the Arcata Union newspaper’s Aug. 4, 1994 front page shows Wise and a UB volunteer with the new public artwork in front of well-tended, terraced gardens, now wild and overgrown.
Though plumbed with water service and a faucet, the fountain was never implemented, the garden is gone and now, the sculpture has to leave, too.
“We couldn’t manage all the 21 little plots,” said Pastor Tim Doty. Campers were a problem as well, and the disused, untended parcel posed liability problems for the church.
Doty said that several citizens had approached the church with ideas for making the lot at 11th and F into something useful. Open Door Clinic had suggested planting medicinal herbs, and the Humboldt permaculture Guild and Humboldt Agricultural Society had expressed interest.
But plans to regrade and restore the plot were encumbered by the old sculpture dominating the corner.
A promising recent proposal involved repopulating the plot with native plants as part of a community-neighborhood holistic garden project.
That motivated the church to finally take action, and the decision was made to move or demolish the fixture.
“We want it gone,” said Church Councilmember Joan Tempas. “It needs a new home.”
“We feel we owe it to the community,” he said. “The best thing would be if someone came forward and said, ‘I want it and I’ll take it.’”
But moving it could be more difficult than just breaking it up and taking away the pieces. The octagonal, obelisk-like piece’s mass, structure, how it is anchored, even the artist who oversaw its creation were unknown.
The scope of the project, the best approach and what resources would be required couldn’t be mapped out with crucial information lost to history – until Doty and Tempas learned of Wise’s role from the Union coverage.
Now a marriage and family therapist specializing in expressive arts, Wise is sorry to see the piece relocated. But she freely shared structural information.
“It was a ‘site-specific art project,’” Wise said. Formed up with plywood and poured concrete and with plumbing inside, the sculpture is hollow. “It was supposed to be a fountain,” she said.
As to the piece’s base, Wise dispelled any concerns about a difficult excavation. “I don’t think it goes down that deep,” she said.
Doty’s hope for a new life for the sculpture is close to reality, thanks to Humboldt State’s Upward Bound program, members of whom helped assemble it 18 years ago.
After Academic Coordinator Leo Cañez learned about the sculpture via a Craigslist ad placed by the church, he put a notice on the group’s Facebook page. UB members quickly stepped up, and numerous offers of assistance came in. An initial plan involved removing the and salvaging the tiles. The handcrafted tiles hold special meaning to some.
Then, an offer came in from one of its co-creators to host the fountain at a home on the Mad River.
“I was there at the fountain’s creation,” wrote Steve Irwin. “I will take this to my Arcata home if no one else is willing to preserve it. I remember the instructor had to get permission to locate the fountain. It was plumbed and working at the end of the summer session. Each UB student made a tile. I did one with a candle and the word ‘teacher’ on it.”
The group doesn’t have all the equipment necessary for digging the scuplture out and moving it, though, and is hoping that someone with a backhoe will come forward and help out.
Wise accepts the relocation with some regret, but is glad that a new garden will be installed at the site.
“It makes me sad for the kids, ’cause they were really proud of it,” Wise said of the sculpture. “It took the entire length of a summer program. But I hope that wherever it goes, it is happy.”