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Metal shop takes on artistic rendering of Smokies arch

The blueprint for a sign is punched into a computer, and the machine starts up. Sparks emit from the metal-cutting apparatus as it carves out the words “Gateway to the Smokies” and “Waynesville, North Carolina.”

Here, at this part-machine shop, part-artist studio, all the pieces of Waynesville’s latest public art piece are being sculpted, carved and shaped. Once complete, they’ll be welded together to make a replica of the historic arch that once spanned Waynesville’ Main Street — proclaiming the town as the “Eastern Entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

The replica won’t span the whole street, but instead will crown the entrance to a downtown mini-park at the corner of Main and Depot streets.

The town’s Public Art Commission contracted Ted Dake, owner of Moto-Fab Metalworks in the Iron Duff community, to build the arch.

“We are really excited about Ted doing it,” said Jan Griffin, head of the art commission. “He is very interested in the history of Waynesville.”

The history is precisely why Dake said he was eager to take on the project.

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“This one (project) is special because I am a bit of a history buff,” Dake said.

The original arch spanned Main Street itself for several decades, proclaiming the town as the “Eastern Entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.” When the first arch went up, national parks were all the rage, and towns like Waynesville were quick to declare their close proximity to the Smokies in the hopes of luring at least a portion of the revenue from the new tourism craze.

And for many longtime residents, the arch was a well-known and well-liked Waynesville landmark.

Now, those who fondly remember the original arch won’t have to wait much longer to see the replica donning Main Street. This one will say “Gateway to the Smokies,” rather than the longer original language. It should be complete in about a month, but when exactly it will be installed, “That’s hard to say,” Dake said.

At the latest, the arch will be up by July 18 — the first day of Folkmoot USA, a two-week cultural festival that brings international dance troupes into Waynesville and the greater region. However, the town could erect the arch sooner if completed early.

“It’s all coming together very well,” Griffin said. “I know that he has been working very diligently on it.”

Dake began working with metal as a young man 32 years ago.

“It’s all I’ve ever done,” Dake said.

He made various industrial, blueprint-specific items until about two years ago when his work became more art-focused. The Moto-Fab Metalworks owner started making custom yard art and signs.

Listed among his past works are a historical marker for the town of Bethel and the sign hanging over Frog’s Leap Public House in Waynesville, as well as other metallic touches featured inside the restaurant.

Although there is still some repetition in his work, pieces such as address markers or nameplates are customized for individual clients. His most popular seller is a cowboy kneeling in front of a cross, marking a grave, with his horse standing behind him.

“That is very, very popular. I can’t make enough of those,” Dake said.

The art commission has created and installed three permanent public art pieces around town during the past few years. The latest addition will be the archway, the second art piece referencing the Smokies in the mini-park on the corner across from the historic courthouse. Already in place is a metal railing with mountain peaks and salamanders.

The total cost of the arch project is about $6,000. The art commission sent out its second round of fund-raising letters about a month ago. And, although she declined to say how much the commission had raised so for the project, Griffin said they continue to receive positive response from residents about the endeavor.

“We are doing very well,” Griffin said. “We are very pleased.”

People who wish to donate to help pay for the arch can write a check to the Town of Waynesville and drop it at the municipal building on Main Street. Donors should note that the money is for the art project in the memo line.

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