LAURINBURG — Vacant since the demolition of Branch’s Car Care late last year, the empty lot at the corner of Church and Main streets will have a new purpose in the spring — with the help of a group of UNC-Pembroke sculpture students.
The Laurinburg City Council, which assumed ownership of the lot from the Laurinburg Downtown Revitalization Corporation, approved the project and an initial $35,000 for landscaping, a paved pathway, and supplies.
Adam Walls, an associate professor in the UNC-Pembroke art department, created a design for the “art park” at no charge to the city, with assistance from student Victor Slaughter.
The park will feature 15 sculptures arranged along a walking path, though many will be super-sized to 10 feet or larger for the viewing pleasure of passersby. But those making a particular visit can be assured that the usual art gallery admonition “look, don’t touch,” will not apply.
“Part of the goal of putting work in a public realm is to engage folks who wouldn’t normally go to a gallery or to a museum,” Walls said. “People don’t have that opportunity — maybe they’re too busy, maybe they just don’t have an interest — but when you bring the work out for them to be part of it, they usually enjoy that experience.”
The sculptures themselves will be the final product of a semester’s worth of work by one of Walls’ introductory sculpture classes. Many of the students have taken art throughout their educational career and come to sculpture with extensive backgrounds in painting and drawing to discover an entirely new world of creative license.
“I’ve learned how to weld and it lets you create these huge pieces with additive and subtractive methods, and so many varieties of sculpture,” said advanced student Jessice Wyre. “Whereas in other mediums it’s really hard to add onto that, with this whatever you imagine it allows you to create.”
“It gives you more of a different perspective of seeing and looking at objects, and allows you to be more observant to things around you,” added Victoria Felicetti.
While many students will start off with steel reels sourced from scrapyards and construction sites, the possibilities for the final products are endless: from benches both for staring at and sitting on, representative pieces like the massive spider stationed outside Pembroke’s art department, and geometric configurations left entirely up to the viewer to interpret.
“It depends on people’s conception process, whether they set out to design something then build it, or sometimes it just goes along with what you’re feeling,” said Amy Ruiz. “The sculpture that I’m working on is inspired by my lunch box.”
The park’s landscaping will include perimeter hedges and taller trees along the wall of the A.B. Gibson center. The arrangement of the sculptures will leave a sizable open space with room for a stage for musical performances and other events.
Once the sculpting is complete, each piece will be painted and powder-coated for durability and longevity. They will be arranged in the park on concrete slabs mixed with local soil for a harmonious appearance and accessibility to viewers.
“In that last 20 percent it goes from junk metal to something really cool,” said Walls, who encourages the students to begin with designs in mind but be guided by intuition. “I don’t know that everybody in the class sees that yet; if you haven’t had that experience you don’t know what it’s like to go from ‘hm, this doesn’t look right,’ and then in the last couple of days worth of work you’re like ‘woah.’”
In Walls’ experience, similar public displays have become a familiar part of the local landscape. Laurinburg’s park has been pitched by community development director Teddy Warner as a possibly rotating display, open in future years to students from other institutions as well as local artists.
“I usually don’t get a chance to actually display my work outside of class or just in the hallway, so this is an exciting process,” said Gabriel Scott.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.