Toward a Fuller Cultural Profile?
By Tom Wachunas
First, a little background. The following two paragraphs are from the ArtsInStark web site, www.artsinstark.com .
“Artist Gail Folwell, nationally recognized and awarded for her sculptures of athletes in action, has been awarded the second commission in The ELEVEN, a $2.2 million public art project of ArtsinStark and the Pro Football Hall of Fame celebrating the greatest moments in professional football history. Her work, depicting The NFL Draft, 1936, will reside in Canton, Ohio, the birthplace of the National Football League (September 17, 1920), and the home of the eventual 11 public art pieces to be completed in 2020 for the 100th anniversary of the NFL…”
“…I was drawn to The NFL Draft, 1936 (moment) because it demonstrated the collaboration between the business and the art of football.” said Folwell. “For this reason, I was compelled to conceptually portray the team owner in a suit as the center on the team, building the roster of players around him…”
Additionally, here’s a link to the video of the artwork being delivered to Canton’s Cultural Center for the Arts :
Gail Folwell’s sculpture will be officially unveiled in Canton’s downtown Arts District on August 7, at the corner of 4th Street and Cleveland Avenue. The photographs above are (in order from the top down) of Folwell in her Colorado studio, the five-figure array of the sculpture-in- progress (both photos from ArtsInStark web site), a close-up I took of an unwrapped portion temporarily parked in the Cultural Center’s Great Court, and the newly-built concrete platform awaiting final installation.
Beyond its programmatic relevance to the whole idea behind The Eleven project, the sculpture is a remarkable work of art in its own right. Folwell has invested her figures with both a sense of impending explosive motion and a visceral, expressive physicality. Though cast in bronze, they seem to have been carved out of solid rock. This in itself evokes football’s apparently permanent place in the landscape of America’s (not to mention Canton’s) “popular” culture. Folwell’s chosen medium of bronze casting is one steeped in a classical tradition that we rightly associate with elevating or monumentalizing human achievements. For a time-honored precedent, consider the ancient Greeks and their veneration of athletic pursuits expressed in exquisite bronze and marble statuary.
Currently, the collection of Arts District public sculptures is primarily a mobile menagerie of funky fauna. While some might argue that this pastiche of mostly recycled industrial metal parts is an “entertaining” expression of artful whimsicality, it nonetheless collectively pales in comparison to the compelling elegance of a work such as Gail Folwell’s. Hers, I think, sets a very high bar for ArtsInStark’s future installations of public artworks, football-oriented and beyond.
And why should it be otherwise? If the intent is to invest in impressive public art to enhance Canton’s Arts District and its downtown surrounds as a “tourist destination,” why can’t that art declare not just Canton’s famous connection to the NFL, but also the full legacy of Canton culture? I’m taking a cue from Folwell’s own words about her piece as demonstrating “…the collaboration between the business and the art of football,” and imagining a series of representational public artworks that speak to a collaboration between the business and the art of…art. All the arts, actually.
Think of it – a series of public works to complement and balance The ELEVEN with celebrations of the Muses whose promptings have been active in Canton since long before the establishment of the NFL. Fantasy or feasibility? Do we have at least the will to realize specific, permanent public monuments to Canton’s remarkable (and too often neglected?) legacy of music, singing, theatre, ballet, and the visual arts?
The ball, ArtsInStark, is in your hands.