A serendipitous tale: ‘Catching Tadpoles’ finds home in Frog Level

fr publicartA life-sized bronze sculpture of three children catching tadpoles will soon have a new pad in the Frog Level district of downtown Waynesville.

 The Waynesville Public Art Commission has been hunting for the perfect spot for the sculpture after inheriting it last fall. Frog Level topped the short-list for obvious reasons.

“Of course, the idea of putting ‘Chasing Tadpoles’ in Frog Level was just too much to resist,” said Andrew Bowen, a town management assistant.

But likewise, Frog Level was overdue for street art to call its own.

“The pieces we have done in the past have all been on Main Street, and we wanted to be sure to extend the downtown area, if you will, to include Frog Level as being part of the larger downtown community,” said Dave Blevins, a board member on the Waynesville Public Art Commission.

“Chasing Tadpoles” was the perfect piece to fit the bill, Blevins said.

Until recently, the large sculpture was the centerpiece of Biltmore Square Mall’s atrium in Asheville. But it was evicted to make way for major remodeling, and fate steered it Waynesville’s way.

The Waynesville Public Art Commission had to find a home for it, however. The only spot in Frog Level big enough to accommodate the piece and visible enough to do it justice is the main intersection of Depot Street. 

The site isn’t without drawbacks, however.

The high-traffic intersection, while busy, lacks the sort of visibility a fine work of art deserves. The sculpture’s intimate details are best viewed up close, not from the window of a briskly passing car.

The piece’s barefoot children, with rolled-up trousers and hitched-up petticoats, have life-like poses and expressions. One boy has a sling shot in the back pocket of his overalls; a girl has a doll in the crook of her elbow. 

“It is really a 360-degree piece. It is intended to be viewed all the way around,” Bowen said.

Frog Level isn’t exactly a hotbed of pedestrian activity. That is changing, however, with a retail renaissance of eclectic art galleries, antique shops, second-hand stores and a microbrewery joining Frog Level stalwarts like Panacea coffee shop.

The sculpture’s placement in Frog Level could help with that transformation by piquing passersby interest, said Blevins.

“If it encourages people to walk down there to see it, that’s part of the plan,” Blevins said.

The intersection isn’t exactly the most aesthetically pleasing place to linger, however. It’s flanked by a gravel parking lot and railroad tracks, with a large metal transformer box as a backdrop.

The original artist of the piece, in particular, was concerned the unattractive corner wouldn’t serve the piece well.

But Town Manager Marcy Onieal said the sculpture could be just the fixer-upper the anchor intersection of Frog Level needs. 

Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown said he understands the  desire for a picture-perfect setting.

“But at the same time, it is there to beautify. You have made our community more beautiful,” Brown said.

Yet another concern is whether the sculpture could be prone to vandalism or theft.

“But unless you put it in front of the police station, that is always going to be an issue,” Bowen said.

Yet another concern is that the statue could be hit by a car careening through the intersection and jumping the curb.

The town is getting creative to help solve some of the site’s short-comings.

Primarily, the statue will be elevated atop a raised berm held in place by a natural stone retaining wall.

“The point of that was to get it up to where everyone could see it as they drive by,” Bowen said.

The elevated berm will be landscaped with rocks and plants that convey the impression of a creek bed. The artist has helped with the site design.

“We want to make it look as natural as possible,” Bowen said.

Staff writer Holly Kays contributed to this article.



Make way for tadpoles

Five public art pieces have been installed in Waynesville over the past several years. The Waynesville Public Art Commission selects a theme, vets artists, commissions the winning design and raises all the money for the pieces.

The pieces include: the giant pair of mountain musicians playing washtub bass and banjo, and a whimsical rendition of twirling dancers and flags paying homage to the Folkmoot International Dance Festival.

The three most recent art pieces were part of a trilogy honoring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and sited at the small town square at the corner of Main and Depot streets. 

The latest addition — the “Chasing Tadpoles” sculpture  — is the work of Tuscola High School’s long-time, revered art teacher Bill Eleazer, who made an impact on hundreds of Haywood County high school students over the years, including several who became accomplished, professional artists.

The now-retired Eleazer helped the Waynesville Art Commission land the piece, which was one of his first pieces at the start of his career 30 years ago.

The piece was offered for free, but money had to be raised to cover the moving and installation costs. 

A $4,000 grant for the work was awarded through the Mib and Phil Medford Endowment Fund, which honors the couple’s lifetime commitment to town beautification, streetscape and pedestrian enhancements.

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