A Tale of Two Industries: Art and Steel, Part 2

Posted by Emily Engott, Dec 01, 2016 0 comments

Erie, PA has embarked on a renaissance of both art and industry through a project that leverages Erie’s industrially-rooted identity. Spearheaded by Erie Arts & Culture and artists Tom Ferraro and Ed Grout, the Art & Industry project convenes local manufacturers to share trends and career opportunities with students from Erie County Technical School, reinforcing skills students need to excel. The students then designed, fabricated and installed public art that is a lesson in the history of Erie’s people, helping to foster pride in industrial heritage that extends to the products created locally today. This is the conclusion of a two-part blog; read part one here.

A quick trip from the first public art piece installed through the project, a mural entitled “Setting the Stage for Erie’s Future,” will bring you to the home of a sculpture entitled “Fruits of Labor.” The location is a grassy vacant lot nestled between E. 13th and Holland Streets.

The lot, which is owned by Rick Griffith Properties, sits outside of a building called Lovell Place, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once home to Lovell Manufacturing Company, the complex housed manufacturers of bed springs, rodent traps, wringers, and dryers, as well as a foundry and machine shop. Today, Lovell Place provides loft apartments and office spaces to downtown tenants like the Erie office of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry.

Completed installation of the sculpture“Fruits of Labor.” (Courtesy of Tom Ferraro)

Rick Griffith Properties funded the concrete foundation that bears the pleasant burden of the behemoth metal sculpture featuring a 10-by-20-foot horse and globe. The horse heaves the weight of the massive globe onward with metallic dynamism, representing the role of labor in blazing a path forward from an agricultural era to The Industrial Revolution. The globe fulfills its allotted space with such might that it could even encumber the Titan, Atlas. It serves as Erie’s connection to and impact on the world market.

The horse’s head reflected in sunlight. (Courtesy of Deb Vahanian, Glass Growers Gallery)

Ferraro and Grout enlisted the expertise of fellow teaching artists Ron Bayuzick and Kathe Umlauf. Umlauf’s extensive knowledge of animal anatomy coupled with Bayuzick’s ability to turn found objects into a work of art was ultimately what transformed heaps of donated, recycled metal, and locally-made industrial parts into a saliently designed colossus of a horse sculpture. In collaboration with ECTS students and faculty of welding, metal fabrication, and design, the team of artists drafted the plan for the sculpture and drove it relentlessly to completion.

Working with such massive pieces of metal, it takes a village to raise them. Enter local business owner David Davis, one of a team of professional steel contractors. Earlier this year, Davis was approached by local artists and asked to help complete a major public art installment of Erie’s own.

“There were three artists that approached me a few months ago, Tom [Ferraro], Ed [Grout] and Ron [Bayuzick],” said Davis. “They knocked on my door out of the blue and asked if I wanted to get involved with their project. They said they had secured grant money to do city-wide art projects that would be displayed to the public, so I volunteered my services.”

Davis is the powerhouse behind Gene Davis Sales & Service, located at 1119 Payne Ave. in the industrial corridor, and is an avid patron of public art projects. “Public artwork is becoming much more prominent in cities around the world and right now Erie is trying to grasp onto the idea,” he said. “It’s nice to be a part of that.”

Two ECTS students apprenticed with one of Davis’s workers to help construct the globe. Through their apprenticeship, the students gained experience in project management, creative process, critical thinking, building and managing collaborations, and communication skills.

Base of the globe. (Courtesy of Danielle Wilber)It took the team roughly five weeks to complete the globe. Its skeleton and its pieces had to be constructed separately because the entire sculpture was too big to be assembled in the shop. The globe was then assembled on location, the remaining pieces fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle.

“[My employees] take pride in the fact that they touched it and were part of it,” said Davis. “Someday they can take their kids there and show them what they helped create.”

Ferraro said that “Fruits of Labor” is by far his favorite installation in the Art & Industry project because of all of the challenges it presented. “There were a lot of logistical and technical challenges involved with it,” said Ferraro. “We worked with more partners on that piece than any other, and that’s what made it so rewarding.”

Days will weld into months and soon the end of 2016 will be upon us. By the end of the year, the third installation of the project, which is still in the design phase, is set to be introduced to its neighbors in the Erie community and welcome visitors entering the city from the west.

The piece will be mounted on a rail bridge remnant located east of the intersection of Greengarden Blvd. and W. 12th St. The crossing at this location once connected the train tracks with the port access of the Erie Bayfront. As industrial activity along Erie’s waterfront began to change in the middle of the 20th century, so too did the importance of the rail lines.

Today, Erie’s Bayfront is a location that actively works to diversify the city’s economy as a tourist destination. It is the home port to the U.S. Brig Niagara, a replica of Cmdr. Oliver Hazard Perry’s relief flagship used in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. The Bayfront is also a bustling locale filled with marinas, hotels, restaurants, public piers, and spaces for outdoor recreation and performances. 

Rail bridge remnant at the intersection of Greengarden Blvd. and W. 12th St. (Courtesy of Erie Arts & Culture)

“The rail bridge remnant is an important reminder of Erie’s push toward progress,” said Amanda Brown Sissem, the executive director of Erie Arts & Culture. “It sits at the crossroads of our history and our future. Manufacturing continues to represent a significant portion of the region’s economy, but it is evolving. It’s critical that the community prepares for these changes and that our future workforce is prepared with hard and soft skills needed to support it. Art processes and products are providing the tools to understand and celebrate this evolution together.”

For now, artist Ferraro said he is anticipating the impact the project will have on the community. “This project is going to show people that industry is still here, it just has a different look,” he said.

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