October 17, 2010 in Idaho Voices

Sculpture uses salvage materials

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Kathy Plonka photo

Sandpoint artist Nelson Boren used old road signs to create a fish sculpture that will the next piece of public art in downtown Sandpoint.
(Full-size photo)

As you enter Sandpoint, there are signs proclaiming this resort area as a walking town. But this community is quickly evolving into much more than a place where you can stroll safely through the streets; it is also becoming a destination spot that soon will be known for its public art.

A few years ago the city established the Sandpoint Arts Commission. The group meets once a month and works with city officials to bring art to public spaces in Sandpoint. The goal: Promote Sandpoint as an artistic town with an emphasis on cultural excellence.

In addition to reviewing proposed public art projects, the Sandpoint Arts Commission is responsible for initiation of those projects; recommending the direction of public art projects and artists; participating in the selection of panel members; and reviewing reports on work selected for public art.

The latest piece of public art to hit Sandpoint will turn heads when put into place in the next couple of months.

The creation is a 40-foot-long arch to be placed at Main Street and First Avenue in the heart of downtown. From the arch will hang 95 trout cut out of metal street signs donated by the state and city.

The creator of the piece is Nelson Boren, a local artist whose proposal was chosen over 10 other entries.

“It was nice to see so much participation from the community,” said Boren about all of the proposals.

A registered architect, Boren owned firms in Utah and Arizona before moving to Sandpoint 20 years ago.

“The buildings I designed were three-dimensional, very sculptural,” said Boren. “It was like living in a piece of art.”

Although his background is in architecture, Boren is also a painter whose work graces the walls of galleries across the country. He is working on a 24-foot mural that will be placed in the Jackson Hole, Wyo., airport in early November.

Boren said he was impressed with the Sandpoint Art Commission’s goals. Those, coupled with his desire to bring more art to the community, are what prompted him to submit a design to the committee.

Boren said the guidelines imposed upon the artists’ proposals contained very few restrictions, allowing for more creativity. But he imposed some practical guidelines on himself.

“I wanted it to be maintenance free, and I thought it would be fun to do something green,” said Boren, adding that he also wanted it to reflect the flavor and history of this area. That’s one reason he chose fish as the subject of his piece.

Boren was thinking how he could get salvaged materials to construct the arch and fish when he drove past Sandpoint’s byway construction and saw old I-beams near the site. He approached the company in charge of the project, and Boren said they were delighted to donate the materials.

“We will acid-wash them to keep them looking old,” Boren said.

He then contacted the Idaho Department of Transportation, which agreed to donate old road signs.

“And so we ended up with a recycled project,” he said.

The creation process has been a long and involved one.

Boren took inventory of the signs, including those for stop, yield, mileposts, a ski area and litter control, and made note of the colors. Next, he drew an outline of the fish for each sign and determined just how much material he could get from them. He also built a model to assist him in determining where each of the fish, ranging in size from two to five feet long, would be placed.

By placing the bolts at various lengths from the beam, Boren has created a three-dimensional piece of art. Some of the fish are stationary while others will move with the breeze, creating a wind chime effect.

“The illusion is that you have a school of fish moving across the road,” said Boren.

The sculpture will be illuminated at night by a rope light placed in back of the fish. While some of the trout will contain the bright colors of the road signs, others will be solid silver with texture that Boren added with the help of a grinder.

“When the sun hits it, it just glitters and sparkles,” Boren said.

The $37,000 project is paid for by a grant from the Department of Transportation.

Boren said he, like many artists, believe it’s important to have public art integrated into a community. “It enriches the experience of walking into a building,” Boren said. “And it is really nice when it reflects local culture.”

The original plan was to have fish on just one side of the arch, but Boren said he decided to add them to other side for the same price.

“I wanted to do it right,” he said. “It’s not about the money. I’m just thrilled to do something for the community.”

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