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Drawing more than 300 million visitors each year, the National Park Service is both a reservoir of natural beauty and an economic anchor for the communities surrounding its lands — and many of those communities are now banding together to demand that Congress address the parks’ $11.3 billion maintenance backlog.

“To know what this means to us — the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — and for us to have to ask them for some sustainable revenue to keep these parks going, it’s almost like asking somebody to take care of their baby,” Jackson County Commissioner Boyce Dietz said before the board unanimously passed a resolution in favor of sustained funding Dec. 18, 2017.

The Town of Waynesville has selected an artist and an art piece for its latest public art installation.

Sylva’s town leaders were so excited to see the number of applications they received from prospective members of a public art committee they’ve spent the last half year working to form that they considered expanding the number of seats available on the committee.

The tiny but blossoming business community along Hazelwood Avenue is about to get a major boost from the town of Waynesville.

art publicartA new public art sculpture will be unveiled in downtown Waynesville this week by renowned Western North Carolina metal sculptor Grace Cathey.

The Waynesville Public Art Commission has put together a 150-recipe cookbook to benefit future public art pieces.

The Taste of the Great Smoky Mountains Cookbook is $10 and is the culmination a month-long process of collecting recipes from area residents. Many are old recipes handed down from generation to generation. One recipe dates back to a 1966 church cookbook.

fr waynesvillearchA dedication ceremony for Waynesville’s latest art installation will be held at 7 p.m. on Friday, July 27.

A whimsical sculpture that honors the Folkmoot international dance festival will find new prominence at a different spot on Main Street in Waynesville.

The Waynesville Art Commission approved the relocation of the “Celebrating Folkmoot” for public safety reasons and concerns about its visibility at its meeting last week.

At its current location in front of Waynesville’s new town hall, the sculpture is subject to a wind tunnel effect. The wind serves nicely to rotate several flags mounted on the piece, but also causes a safety hazard.

Flags on the statue have flown off in the past and could potential harm someone or something.

“It’s only happened twice, but that’s twice too many,” said Jan Griffin, chair of the art commission board.

The commission wants to move the statue across the street to the old town hall building, specifically on the left side if facing the building.

“People really don’t see if up against this building,” said Griffin, later adding that people might enjoy the statue more if it is more visible.

The colossal, metal sculpture, created by artist Wayne Trapp, features a flowing banner-like dancer with seven flags that turn in the wind. The piece, which was paid for through private donations, was dedicated in 2009 as part of a Waynesville public art project.

The commission also discussed building a platform for the statue to sit on, making it more noticeable, and surrounding it by a 3- or 4-foot fence.

“It’s so much more delicate than music men,” Griffin said. That public art installation, made of hefty metal, often becomes a jungle-gym for children and tourists seeking photo-ops.

The fence should deter people from climbing on the “Celebrating Folkmoot” statue like they do the music men but should not detract from the piece itself, commission members agreed.

“We do not want a fence that is not compatible with the art work,” said Bill King, a member of the commission.

Griffin said she did not know how much the move will cost but the money will come from the commission’s funds.

In order to move the piece, both the artist and the town must approve it.

“(Trapp) is more than in favor of moving the piece,” Griffin said.

The commission will address the Waynesville Board of Aldermen in January for approval.

It doesn’t take much of an artist’s eye to appreciate the newest piece of public art planned for the streets of downtown Waynesville.

By this time next year, a replica of a historic arch — boasting Waynesville as the “Eastern Entrance” to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — will once again crown Main Street.

The original arch spanning Main Street dates to the mid-1930s and remained up for four decades. Mention the arch to locals, and nostalgia is quick to set in. The arch was larger than life, omnipresent in old memories of downtown.

For Buffy Phillips, it was marching under it during parades, banging away on a snare drum with the high school marching band.

“It was just part of Main Street,” said Phillips, now the director of the Downtown Waynesville Association. “It would have been great if we could have brought that back.”

Indeed, the town tried to resurrect the actual arch in all its glory, soaring over the street once more. But Main Street doubles as a state highway, and erecting an overhead arch didn’t pass muster with the N.C. Department of Transportation.

“We’d have to go through an act of Congress to do it,” said Mayor Gavin Brown. “It just wasn’t going to work.”

Instead, a replica of the arch will grace the entrance to a mini-park at the intersection of Main and Depot streets near the historic courthouse.

The arch will hopefully draw attention to the mini-park, which gets little use now. It is easily missed, or mistaken as a private space for the adjacent office building. The arch over its entrance will change that.

“I feel like it will be inviting people to make use of that park and chill out for a little bit,” said Ed Kelley, a member of the Waynesville Public Art Commission spearheading the effort.

Bringing back the arch will also rekindle Waynesville’s connection to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which has slipped since those early decades after the park’s creation.

“I want Waynesville and North Carolina to have a better tie to the national park. I think we have let an asset go to waste over the years,” Brown said.

When the original arch went up, newfangled national parks were all the rage, and the region was beside itself over having one to call its own. The Smokies was the first national park in the East, joining the ranks of Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon — and Waynesville was quick to hitch its wagon to that train.

After all, you couldn’t get to the Smokies without coming through Waynesville back then, so why not declare itself the “Eastern Entrance?”

There is some debate, albeit mild in nature, over how many different signs there were over the years.

“The consensus is there were three,” Brown said.

But not according to local historian Bruce Briggs, who counts only two. Briggs has an unfair advantage when it comes to arch trivia: his father built the original one back in 1936.

Briggs said the actual arch — bearing the words “Great Smoky Mountains National Park” — never changed. But a smaller sign beneath it did. Originally, an arrow-shaped sign hung from the arch baring the words “Eastern Entrance” and pointing down Depot Street, out of town, through Maggie Valley and eventually to the park, albeit 30 miles away.

The arrow was replaced at some point with a plaque listing the mileage to certain place names, like Black Camp Gap.

“The one giving the distances was put up later when Waynesville couldn’t exactly claim to be the eastern entrance anymore,” Briggs said.

New roads through the region meant traffic bound for the Smokies no longer had to pass through Waynesville’s doorstep.

Briggs was only 10 when his father built the arch while serving as superintendent of lights and water for the town. Oscar Briggs made the sign at the town maintenance garage, but Briggs believes the materials were paid for by the chamber of commerce.

Business leaders were a driving force behind the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hoping to boost the tourism economy of the region. So it makes sense the chamber of commerce would commission the arch to draw attention to Waynesville’s proximity to the new destination.   

The arch finally started to show its age, however, and was taken down sometime around 1970.

“It was getting in bad shape,” said long-time former mayor Henry Foy, who grew up on Main Street in the 1930s.

No one knows for sure where that old arch is today, but Foy has little doubt it ended up on the scrap heap somewhere.

Foy remembers it laying in the yard outside the town’s maintenance shed after being taken down, getting more and more corroded.

 

Tribute to the Smokies

The arch replica is just one piece of art that will commemorate the Great Smoky Mountains. There will eventually be a trifecta of public art pieces in the mini-park to represent the Smokies.

One is already in place: a hand-forged metal railing with subtle references to the Smokies, including mountain peaks and salamanders.

The final art piece for the mini-park will be a series of metal panels mounted on the wall of the office building beside the park. In an odd bit of real estate lore, the wall of the office building is town property. While the rest of the building is owned by Jeff Norris’ law firm, the town-owned wall is fair game for sporting town-sanctioned art.

“The mini park is a strategic part of our Main Street,” said Jan Griffin, chair of the public art commission. “It will be a great place for people to sit and relax.”

The art commission still has to raise money for the piece, which Kelley estimates could be around $6,000. But he thinks fundraising will come easily.

“It is a commemorative piece. So many people remember the arch and will support bringing back that element of Waynesville that has been missing for a long time,” Kelley said.

As for what words to put on the replica? The public art commission has gone with an approximation. Instead of “Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Eastern Entrance” the arch will say “Gateway to the Smokies: Waynesville, North Carolina.”

“History and art and commercial endeavors all come into play,” Brown said. “A lot of people want to see the name Waynesville in the sign.”

Brown figures the arch will become the most photographed spot downtown, and there’s no better publicity than tourists posing under it and posting photos of themselves to Facebook with the town’s name in them.

Honoring a lost art

By Kristen Davis • Contributing Writer

The newest piece of public art in downtown Waynesville — a metal railing that depicts a mountain scene — could have been crafted centuries ago.

The artists, Richard Coley and Ben Kastner of Wilmington decided to forego modern technology and built the structure using traditional blacksmithing techniques. Starting with 20-foot pieces of metal, Coley and Kastner heated up the metal in a forge and then hammered each bar into their desired shape. No corners were cut with modern machines; even the holes in the metal were hand-punched rather than drilled.

“[Blacksmithing] is a lost art,” Kastner said. “With the machine age, everyone went to machine parts. We’re trying to take it back to the simpler way of doing it. When it’s handmade, you can really see the craftsmanship.”

What used to be straight pieces of metal are now twisted elegantly into a mountain skyline with trees, a church steeple, and three salamanders in honor of the Great Smoky Mountains as the “Salamander Capital of the World.”

The railing will be installed at the mini-park near the corner of Main and Depot streets this week. The intersection holds historic significance as the site that was once overlooked by a large arched sign that indicated the eastern entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Franklin D. Roosevelt rode beneath the sign on his way to the dedication ceremony for the park in 1934. These aspects of the town’s history inspired the Waynesville Public Art Commission’s theme for the railing — “Art Connects the Parks.”

Kastner explained that the installation could take one to three days.

“Installs are something you never really know what you’re getting until you get there,” he said. “We have to drill these 3-inch holes in the wall, so there could be unseen obstacles at the job site.”

Unexpected setbacks notwithstanding, the artists plan to have the railing installed by the dedication ceremony, which will occur at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 19, at Gallery 86. According to Kaaren Stoner, the public art commission chairman, the ceremony will last about a half hour, and the featured speakers will include: Mayor Gavin Brown; a representative from Smoky Mountain National Park; Bill King, vice chairman of the Public Art Commission; and the two artists.

This project is the first public art commission Kastner and Coley have received. Kastner called it “one of the best opportunities” he and their shop have ever had. They were selected for the commission after responding to the Waynesville Public Art Commission’s call for artists throughout North Carolina and Tennessee to design a railing that could represent downtown Waynesville’s historic connection to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, beating out the other 25 artists who applied.

Kastner said he and his business partner/fellow artist/friend have been working 12 to 15 hour days to finish the project by their deadline.

“People will enjoy it for years to come, so I don’t mind spending the extra time when so many people can enjoy it,” he said. “It’s rewarding to think that it’s not just for one homeowner to enjoy behind closed doors.”

Kastner’s interest in metal-working sparked in high school when he took a welding class outside of his regular class schedule. Eventually, he and Coley, his friend since high school, attended the College of Oceaneering in California to learn underwater welding. While there, they both worked part-time at a blacksmith shop, which reoriented their interest toward more traditional ironworks.

“There’s only so much you can do with welding,” Kastner said.

He prefers the challenge that blacksmithing provides him.

“You can always get better at it, you can always learn more,” he said. “It’s always exciting to think about the things you can learn from other people. It’s not the same thing everyday like your average job.”

The “Art Connects the Parks” project is the third major public art installation to grace the streets of downtown Waynesville, thanks to the efforts of the Public Art Commission. The first project “Old Time Music,” constructed by Stefan Bonitz, was installed on the corner of Miller and Main Streets in 2008 and features two rosy-cheeked, grinning musicians — one playing banjo and the other on a washtub bass. The second project “Celebrating Folkmoot,” by renowned public artist Wayne Trapp, waves its flags in the wind on the corner of Main and East streets.

The public purse was not opened for any of the three public art projects. All were funded with private donations, Stoner said. The $20,000 commission for “Art Connects the Parks” comes from individuals, local businesses and a grant from the Haywood County Tourism.

This past June, the Public Art Commission raised much of the commission funds with its “Salamander Splash” event at HART Theater, where there was an art auction of more than 48 works of art — paintings, jewelry, pottery, quilted wall art and metal — all featuring the “Salamander Capital of the World” theme and made by Haywood County artists.

The Waynesville Public Art Commission, established in 2006, evolved out of the StreetScapes Committee, which raised funding for rotating temporary art for the town’s public spaces from 1999 to 2004. The success of the StreetScapes initiative caused enthusiasm for implementing permanent public art.

“I’d like to thank the town for giving us this opportunity,” Kastner said. “It’s opened some doors and changed the course we’re heading by getting us away from the architectural side of things and into public art. We feel like there’s more of a purpose to it because more people can enjoy it.”

Since receiving their first public art commission, Coley and Kastner applied for another one in Kinston, for which they are designing a bandstand to honor the African American Music Trail. They were selected as finalists and will turn in their design next week, Coley said.

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