CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- What could be more boring than a humble trash barrel, unless you dress it up?That's what Naomi Bays figured when she chose artistic sidewalk trash receptacles -- or refuse containers, as she prefers to call them -- as one of FestivALL's public-art projects.That's what attracted Gary Lehman, a Chicago artist and landscape architect, to the project."Mostly [trash receptacles] are, today, a very typical entity in the public realm," Lehman said in a phone interview from his office at G Studio. "I like changing normal elements into art."We're in a world of pre-fabrication. The environment looks the same wherever you go."As a landscape architect, we usually go through catalogs" to choose street furniture like benches, lamps and, yes, trash containers, he said. "It's the same thing in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago."Lehman's résumé lists dozens of projects -- landscape architecture and fine art -- mostly in the greater Chicago area."I'm a public artist and a landscape architect," he said. "I do both ends. I have a degree in landscape architecture."
He's in his fourth year running his own studio after nearly nine years of working with others."The reason I went on my own was to do more public art," he said. "I've done fine art for a long time -- painting and sculpture."For the Charleston project, artists were asked to design the outside of a simple steel cylinder -- 2 feet tall, 16 inches in diameter. The receptacles will stand 11 inches off the ground on steel poles.For inspiration for his first-ever West Virginia project, Lehman turned to the Internet."I start out using Google images. I pick out a city and pick out different images -- Flickr is another [site] -- and look at pictures people take all the time," he said.
He also uses topographic maps to help visualize the terrain.The result was his winning entry, titled "Meandering Hills." Inspired by wintertime landscapes, when bare trees help define ridgelines, it used hundreds of vertical slashes -- trees -- to suggest a series of rolling hills.
He later had to modify the design after learning that the fabricator, Structural Systems of Nitro, charges extra every time its laser cutter has to lift off the piece. Each tree -- "I think we counted 600" -- required a separate cutout, he said.His revised design uses larger, but far fewer, abstract shapes to define the ridgelines, bringing the fabrication cost into budget.At this point, the project coordinator, FestivALL public art director Bays, isn't sure how many containers she can afford to make with the $8,000 grant from the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation. The first $1,000 goes to Lehman.In addition to the fabrication, there are painting costs.The artistic trash receptacles are just the latest in a series of FestivALL public-art ventures aimed at turning everyday objects into works of art. The Peer to Pier murals under Interstate 64 have turned into an annual affair, and you can find whimsical artistic bike racks scattered around town.Bays' idea took a bit longer than planned. The original site for the trash receptacles got vetoed after Mary Jane Vanderwilt, chairwoman of the Municipal Beautification Commission, pointed out that Capitol Street already had artistic trash barrels of a sort. Blacksmith Jeff Fetty's 1980s design has stood the test of time, she said, and City Manager David Molgaard agreed.
Molgaard brokered a compromise. The barrels would go along Kanawha Boulevard instead, to help tie Haddad Park to Magic Island.An initial call for artists came and went. Bays put out a second in November.Now the plan is to start fabrication next month."I know they'll be done by May," she said. City workers could install them somewhere between mid-May and June.Reach Jim Balow at email@example.com or 304-348-5102.