Finalists in sculpture contest have left mark on area before

The finalists competing to create Lawrence's next Percent for Art project are no strangers to public art. Most of them aren't even strangers to Lawrence.

A 14-member selection committee recently narrowed a 50-submission field to four contenders, each with his own idea for a sculpture that will inhabit a grassy verge at the entrance to downtown Lawrence in honor of the city's sesquicentennial.


Journal-World File Photo

"Arrangement in Red, Blue and Gold," an aluminum wall sculpture created by Lawrence artist Stephen Johnson, generates conversation for two art enthusiasts during its April unveiling at the Lied Center. Johnson is a finalist for Lawrence's upcoming Percent for Art sculpture project.

The finalists vying for the honor (and the $50,000 budget) are:

  • Stephen Johnson, a Lawrence resident and Kansas University alumnus whose most recent local public art project was "Arrangement in Red, Blue and Gold," a colorful aluminum wall sculpture unveiled in April to celebrate the Lied Center's 10th anniversary. Johnson, who also writes and illustrates children's books, received $35,000 from the city in 2002 to create seven interactive robot sculptures, 12 original works of art and a rocket ship stepladder for Lawrence Memorial Hospital's children's wing.
  • Doug Coffin, a Lawrence native who now lives in Abiquið, N.M., but grew up at Haskell Indian Nations University, where his father, Tony Coffin, was coach and athletic director. (Coffin Sports Complex is named for the elder Coffin, who coached American Indian track star Billy Mills.) Coffin attended KU and the Cranbrook Academy of Fine Art in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Coffin's "Kansas Totem #1," a $10,240 Percent for Art sculpture in 1994, stands nearly 30 feet tall just north of Sixth Street on Iowa. He also created the "Medicine Wheel Totem" at Haskell.
  • Tom Otterness, a Wichita native now living in Brooklyn, N.Y., whose playful yet often morose bronze figures adorn lawns and plazas across the country. His "Crying Giant" is a fixture outside the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Mo., and his "Dreamers Awake" has been on display in front of the Wichita Art Museum since 1995.

    • Who decides?A 14-member art selection subcommittee of the Lawrence Arts Commission has narrowed to four finalists the field of submissions for Lawrence's next Percent for Art project. The committee will make its final recommendation for which artist should complete the $50,000 project at an Oct. 6 meeting. Their recommendation will be forwarded by the Arts Commission to the City Commission, which will consider the project for approval at its Oct. 12 meeting.The selection committee members are:
    • Dick Holzmeister, chairman
    • Janet Satz, Lawrence Arts Commissioner
    • Mark Hecker, superintendent of Parks & Maintenance
    • Crystal Miles, landscape supervisor, Lawrence Parks & Recreation
    • Sharon Spratt, of Cottonwood Inc.
    • William Carswell, associate dean and associate professor of architecture at KU
    • David Cateforis, associate professor of art history at Kansas University
    • Marilyn Dobski, co-owner of the Lawrence McDonald's franchise
    • Maria Martin, owner of Southwest and More, 727 Mass.
    • Bobbi Rahder, lecturer in museum studies and indigenous nations studies at KU
    • Diane Simpson, Stevens & Brand, 900 Mass.
    • Deanell Tacha, chief judge of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
    • Jeff Ridgway, arts commissioner and artist
    • Kay Henry, arts commissioner
  • Richard Taylor, of Milwaukee, Wis., who has shown his sculptures in group shows and outdoor exhibitions throughout the upper Midwest.

Vicarious survival

In committee chairman Dick Holzmeister's mind, the finalists' proposals all shared a common allure.

"I think they (would make) an impression on you when you came into Lawrence and looked at the site," he says of the location at the southwest corner of Sixth and Massachusetts streets. "They would be an impressive piece of art to look at."

Because this year's competition is still open, the artists and the committee revealed little about the proposals, except to say they employ a wide range of materials, including steel, concrete, granite and marble. In one way or another, the pieces also address the history or identity of Lawrence.

Coffin says his work explores the city's past in an abstract, elegant way, incorporating the colors black, white and red as symbols of the ethnic groups that have co-existed here for decades.

He's hoping the committee likes his vision enough to choose it as a permanent part of the downtown landscape.

"It helps you become part of the history of Lawrence," Coffin says. "As it survives, you survive through the artwork."

Home-town boy

Johnson, who recently completed a 66-foot by 11-foot glass mosaic mural for the DeKalb Avenue subway station in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived for 13 years before moving back to Lawrence about four years ago, likes the idea of working on another project closer to home.

"It would be an honor to do something like this," he says. "Home boy, home town."

Lawrence's Percent for Art program sets aside up to 2 percent of the city's capital improvement costs for art acquisition.

Committee members will make their final decision Oct. 6. Their recommendation will then be forwarded from the Lawrence Arts Commission to the Lawrence City Commission to be considered for approval at its Oct. 12 meeting.

In the mean time, the artists are scheduling trips to Lawrence to visit the site and meet with city staff and committee members to ask questions. Artists must submit their final designs by Oct. 4.

"I think we have extremely good artists there," Holzmeister says. "I think the four that we came up with, any one of the four would be very good for the site."


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