Chapel Hill: Community

Brushstrokes: Town puts sculptors’ ‘Visions’ on display

‘Spanish Dancer’ by Jaci Willis
‘Spanish Dancer’ by Jaci Willis

Tom Grubb believes art is closely connected to the health of the human spirit.

“I don’t see that we are here on earth just to survive,” Grubb says. “I think that art directs people’s attention to focus on different things.”

At the age of 30, Grubb decided to become a professional artist. So he pursued a master of fine arts degree at East Carolina University.

“I was a week late for my first class since I was about 200 miles off of Cape Cod,” he says. The year before, Grubb had left a teaching job and joined a crew on a fishing vessel dredging for scallops in the Atlantic Ocean to pay for graduate school.

“A lot of my art is influenced by being on the ship, navigating, and dealing with brigging, cables, and exploration,” he says.

Grubb’s wondrous sculpture “Chapel Hill Voyager,” composed of bamboo and brightly colored nylon rope, is one of 12 works comprising this year’s “Sculpture Visions.”

The exhibit is produced by the Town of Chapel Hill Cultural Arts, a division of the Parks & Recreation Department.

“Chapel Hill Voyager” is at the Chapel Hill Public Library and standing at 63 feet tall, directs the viewer to soar into the sky all the while firmly planted on land.

“Over a period of time, the bamboo ages, going from green to gold to gray and then is gone. It sort of parallel’s man on earth,” says Grubb, who lives in Washington, N.C,.

For Mike Roig of Carrboro, creating work for a public place is not much different than creating one for a private client, but there are two vital things to consider: safety and scale.

A piece must have presence in a space. “Otherwise it won’t carry much of a visual message,” Roig says. “And unless the piece is something like a musical instrument that you want people to play with, I make sure that pieces are well above people’s reach.”

Roig once served on a committee selecting public art for an exhibit. “We were ready to accept this piece that had huge horizontal arms. But then I realized that once the arms moved, they would clock someone,” says the sculptor, whose pieces are often kinetic.

Roig’s “Beautiful Whirled” is at the Fire Station No. 1 on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Its base is made of heavy-duty construction I beams and square tubing steel.

“It is a huge, spinning piece with a flower shape,” he says. “I love taking those rough construction pieces and making them beautiful.”

Mary Angers has never been to Chapel Hill, or Carrboro, but part of her is still here. “Single Twist,” a brushed aluminum sculpture is located at Roberson Apartments.

“I love math,” says Angers who lives in Long Branch, N.J. “I used to work a lot with coordinate geometry when I was doing computer animation. ‘Single Twist’ for the most part has to do with math and geometry in terms of trying to figure out what makes a line, parallel lines, or a planar surface start to twist or turn, and in some cases, change direction.” She says she is still trying to work through this question.

When Angers was designing “Single Twist,” she tried to create a piece that looked different from every angle. “It has a lot of things to make you think, but yet it seems so simple.”

“Future Ghosts,” made of steel, solar panels, acrylic sheet, and LEDs by Atlanta-based artist Casey Lynch is sited at the Homestead Aquatic Center. By day, it captivates one way, at night another.

“During the day, we see the piece because it reflects light, and at night we see it because it produces light. The light being this traditional idea of light and truth,” Lynch says

Lynch said that this abstract work has spent the last two years in Columbus, Georgia as part of the Uptown Sculpture walk and he received a lot of comments about the piece. One viewer said it was a spaceship that he was going to ride to the moon. “Because it is non-representational, it makes you try and come up with an idea of what it looks like,’ said Lynch.

“”Most people who create public art hope, as I do, that their work leads to this type of interpersonal exchange and also, that their pieces build community,” Lynch ssays.

Other works in the 2014-2015 Sculpture Visions are “Love Bound with Claws,” by Paris Alexander at the downtown post office; “Camel,” by Jonathan Bowling on the Chapel Hill Library Trail; “Hope,” by Charlie Brouwer on the Bolin Creek Greenway near the Community Center; “Pisces #1,” by Wayne Vaughn at the Community Center; “Reach,” by Peter Krsko in the Parks & Recreation Office Parking Area; “Last Dance,” by Hanna Jubran at the Chamber of Commerce building; “Genesis,” by Charles Pilkey at Hargraves Center and “Torn Muse,” by Jaci Willis at the Seymour senior center.

“We believe that all of these works create a sense of beauty, place, and uniqueness that are a part of the shared experience for Chapel Hill’s residents and seniors,” says Steve Wright, Chapel Hill’s public art coordinator. “A town with unique cultural and artistic assets will attract residents and visitors who then further enhance the community and its economy.”

Make an adventure out of seeing every piece. For as Jim Hirschfield, UNC art professor, pointed out recently, “Public art enriches our community, bringing moments of poetry, mystery, and learning to our lives.”

You can reach Deborah R. Meyer at