Let's Talk Shop: Public Art Projects
By Robert Fairchild, Arts Intern in Marketing
Over the past 40 years, the Metal Museum has created a number of commissions for public and private clients. Jeannie Tomlinson Saltmarsh is a major part of that process, and has been with the Museum for over 20 years. She started out as a volunteer and established a long-standing relationship with the Museum. Her hard work and dedication led her to an artist residency, and eventually resulted in her position as project manager and shop coordinator. Her background in art making combined with her business degree from the University of Memphis provided a unique set of skills for her position. As the voice of our shop, she works closely with clients and ensures that projects are cost efficient, professional, and timely.
Public art projects are initiated by the Museum in various ways. The most common way that the shop obtains a large-scale, community-based project is through an open call for artists with organizations like the UrbanArt Commission. Any artist can apply to open calls and the shop applies as a team. Staff artists go through several drafts, eventually submitting an official project proposal. Project proposals are reviewed by committees that work directly with organizations providing the open call for artists. Once the project is approved, the Museum receives funding through grants, sponsors, or private funding for supplies and labor so production can begin.
The Museum contributes to the creation of public works in other ways as well. In some cases, the Museum will provide advising for artists who are unfamiliar with converting small works into large scale pieces. These relationships give artists the opportunity to create work on a monumental scale under the mentorship of experienced metalsmiths. Advising artists who create two-dimensional works provides them with new perspective on how to convert their drawings into three-dimensional sculptures. Memphis artists Terry Lynn and Susie Hendrix have been a part of this process in the past. In other cases, the Smithy and Foundry has worked in collaboration with artists. Confluence, a sculpture at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, was designed by artist and book maker Dolph Smith. Dolph provided models for the piece and our shop adjusted the design based on limitations in scale and possibilities with manipulating the metal. At three feet deep, ten feet tall, and 120 feet long, the shop completed the installation of the piece after a year and a half. It required 235 pieces that were bolted into the wall in stages. The work also includes a poem that describes the Mississippi River in three stages, similar to three acts in a play.
Apprentices gain professional experience through working on these public art pieces as well. Writing proposals, working with clients, and adjusting designs based on client feedback all play a part in introducing new experiences, and expanding upon the skills they already have. A huge opportunity for apprentices is to design major works that will be designed, approved, and installed within their program. In some cases, the work continues to develop after their residency is completed. Running a blacksmith shop is also a business and our shop is self-sustaining. Apprentices learn about overhead, logging hours, and receive a full education on cost efficiency from Jeannie. Site visits with our shop managers and apprentices help ensure that public works speak to their space and place.
Public art projects create opportunities for the Metal Museum to train new generations of artists while enriching communities all over the city of Memphis. Thanks to Jeannie, our shop consistently has the opportunity to work on public art projects. Whether it’s through advising, collaboration, design, construction, or teaching apprentices how to operate a shop, the shop loves creating public projects for the Bluff City!
First Row: Court Square Flowers, Children's Museum of Memphis Sign, Crosstown Concourse Sign
Second Row: Lululemon Sculpture, Grahamwood Elementary School Dragon, Sculptural Rail at Memphis Botanic Garden
Robert Fairchild is the Summer 2019 Arts Intern in Marketing at the Metal Museum. Fairchild is a senior at the University of Memphis, studying Studio Arts and Creative Mass Media. The Arts Intern program, which offers paid internships in the arts to undergraduate students in financial need, is one of many arts programs run by the Studio Institute.