The Making of Trumpet Flower
This post is part of our Public Art Network 2017 Year in Review blog salon.
Trumpet Flower was a labor of love, and at times it felt Sisyphean. In this case, the proverbial boulder was a horn-shaped monstrosity crafted from wood and steel, and the corresponding mountain was a six-story building which would support this towering artwork as it twisted up from the downtown Houston main street.
Designed by sculptor Patrick Renner, this piece moved from the success of a previous public work spanning 180 feet on a boulevard median, to the dizzying new frontier of verticality. Patrick and Kelly O’Brien, principals at Flying Carpet Creative in Houston, TX, worked with their team of makers to achieve what felt, at turns, impossible.
Renner was approached by Weingarten Art Group to submit a design to the Downtown Management District for a public artwork that would nest between skyscrapers, in the interest of drawing attention to a lost niche in the metropolitan landscape. His inspiration was Brugmansia, the genus of flower that, while alluring, is often poisonous as well, and hangs downward, atypical of other floral varieties. He reasoned that this basic form would engender a good shade structure, and result in dynamic place-making.
The creative energy of all the people who painted wood strips is evident in the beautiful tapestry of the surface—a fitting metaphor for the exuberantly diverse population of Houston.
Awarded the opportunity, Flying Carpet commenced construction of the enormous sculpture in their fabrication space. Under the guidance of O’Brien’s engineering prowess, its impressive vertical stature was deemed feasible by applying the concept of a radio tower to the unique form. A battery of load-calculations and other structural tests confirmed the tower theory. Soon, Patrick and his fabrication crew undertook the arduous task of a 100% custom steel infrastructure that would bring Trumpet Flower to life.
Three massive steel pipes as legs hold up a pyramidal system composed of six interconnected truss members, and this is topped with another, massive, 45-foot tapering truss that shoots skyward to achieve the final height of 75 feet.
This marvel of engineering is cloaked in a bright skin of woven wooden slats, perhaps making it appear deceptively simple in its construction at first glance. Walking beneath the canopy of the sculpture, the keen observer may become aware of the internal complexity, now visible in the dense network of steel rod musculature that is the connective tissue between the sculpture’s curvaceous exterior and its linear skeleton within.
Not only a feat of engineering and a marvel of craftsmanship, Trumpet Flower was also a great opportunity for community engagement. Taking Renner’s popular “painting party” activity to the next level, Flying Carpet invited the public to come make their mark on the sculpture, and Houstonians turned out en masse. Under the managerial guidance of Nick Moser, over 1,000 participants came to Market Square Park on a sunny Saturday in February to paint tens of thousands of wooden strips. These were later woven together to produce the technicolor surface of the sculpture. The creative energy of all the people who painted wood strips is evident in the beautiful tapestry of the surface—a fitting metaphor for the exuberantly diverse population of Houston.
With all hands on deck, and two cranes performing a tandem lift, the numerous parts of the sculpture were assembled slowly but surely to achieve the final product. Many months of fabrication, and weeks of work on-site, went into the completion of Trumpet Flower. Flying Carpet is eternally grateful to the many friends, family, and supporters who helped make this possible.