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Art signs add flavor to East End

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Twenty-eight round paintings by 28 artists, recently mounted on 28 lampposts along Washington Street East, tell visitors what East End residents already know: This is a pretty cool place to live.

The paintings -- original pieces of art transferred to vinyl laminated to 30-inch-diameter aluminum discs -- are part of what has become an annual StreetWorks project for East End Main Street, said Ric Cavender, the group's director.

Hung last week by the city's Traffic Engineering Department, the art replaces vinyl banners artists created four years ago that were, frankly, not aging well.

"We first announced this project in May of 2012," Cavender said. "The thought was we wanted something more permanent than the vinyl banners. We had them up for a year and a half but there was wear and tear -- a couple of them got ripped. So we ended up taking them down.

"In 2010 we did bricks, so that if you started at Maxwell Street and walked away from downtown you could see artists' work permanently on the ground. Even though that's really cool and not many places do it, it isn't very visible. Drivers can't see it."

Artists submitted their designs last spring, and Main Street auctioned off the original art last June during FestivALL.

"It did really well," Cavender said. "After distributing 50 percent to the artists we made around $4,000.

Creating the finished product -- Cavender calls them street signs -- proved a bit tricky.

City traffic engineer Allen Copley questioned whether the poles -- decorative streetscape-style cast iron and aluminum posts installed in recent years -- were strong enough for the signs.

"We had wind-load concerns -- wind pressure that builds up," Copley said. "It twists the sign and puts pressure on the pole itself and the foundation bolts."

Cavender asked Sternberg, one of the manufacturers, to do an engineering study to make sure the poles could withstand sustained winds of up to 90 or 100 miles an hour. The company decided Cavender's preferred size -- 36 inches -- was too big and recommended a 30-inch sign.

"We also had to look at some of the foundations," Copley said. "Occasionally they get hit by vehicles. We had to make sure the anchor bolts were not welded back together."

Copley ruled out several lampposts. "Some of the poles have traffic signs already on them. We didn't want anything to draw motorists' attention from our traffic signage."

Cavender learned his original material choice, steel plate, was way too heavy. "We met with the [city] sign shop and found what we needed was a simple stop sign."

With far more available lampposts than art, Cavender decided to go for the biggest impact by concentrating on the main intersections -- Elizabeth Street, Ruffner Avenue and Morris Street. He plans to fill in the gaps, mainly in the long 1500 block, with another round this year.

About a month ago, he emailed artists, asking if they had any preference as to where their art would be hung.

"Of course most of them wanted to be at the corner of Washington and Elizabeth," he said.

Checking time stamps on the emails, he awarded those who answered first. Ian Bode got a prime spot in front of the Bluegrass Kitchen, Rebecca Recco right across the street. Paula Clendenin won a site near Frutcake while Rob Cleland's swirling design greets visitors to the East End Bazaar.

On the back of each art sign is another sign promoting East End Main Street, using the group's new catch phrase -- Charleston East End, your place to be.

A second round of street signs is well under way, Cavender said. A total of 49 artists submitted designs last month. "It's actually perfect, because that's the number of lampposts we have left."

You can bid on your favorite design at the annual auction June 23 at Habitat for Humanity's ReStore. The reception starts at 5:30 p.m.

"The main purpose of this is -- it's a fundraiser for us," Cavender said.

"But it also promotes local artists and it provides aesthetic enhancement that is semi-permanent. And it provides branding for the district, that this is an upcoming artistic district of Charleston.

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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