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Column: ‘Yellowwood Coral’ deserves more respect

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Columbus’ “Yellowwood Coral” gets no respect. It could be because of the name.

It is kind of difficult to associate the tangled web of bicycle parts and scrap metal that serves as a work of art at the Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management District recycling center in Columbus with a formation more commonly seen near coastline beaches.

On the other hand, I lean more to its location.

Fitting though the combination might be — old bike parts and scrap metal do mesh with recycling centers — the current home on Mapleton Street is a bit off the beaten path. I know quite a few local residents who would need a GPS to get there.

Initially, it had a far more prominent location — smack dab in downtown on the City Hall lawn.

It was positioned there in 2006 when sculptor Lucy Slivinski, a Chicago native, invited some local residents to join with her in assembling the metal montage, her contribution to the Sculpture Invitational that brought several pieces to the city courtesy of the Columbus Area Arts Council.

Although the works were to be on temporary display, many of them are still here. They’ve been joined by others, such as the most recent arrivals, an upside-down tree on the courthouse lawn and a colorful piece called “Flamenco” in front of The Commons, which in a short time has become a matter of controversy because some non-art patrons consider it distracting.

Some of their predecessors have been more popular. “Eos,” which spreads out in a median on Fifth Street, became so beloved that it was purchased through a public fund drive coordinated by a pair of young Cummins Inc. employees. Columbus sculptor Robert Pulley’s “Ancestral Way” lining Third Street met a similar response and was purchased by the city in 2008.

The response to “Yellowwood Coral” has been different. On the one hand, it was easily the most talked about piece of the original collection. It had its supporters, but it had quite a few detractors. Ironically, both sides spent quite a bit of time stopping to look at it.

The more charitable of the detractors argued that, while it might be art, it didn’t fit in with its surroundings on the lawn of City Hall. Admittedly, they had a point. Eventually city officials (during the administration of Mayor Fred Armstrong) decided to move it to the recycling center.

In this case, absence didn’t necessarily make the heart grow fonder, but it did put the modernistic work of art out of the way.

I hadn’t thought much about “Yellowwood Coral” until last month during a vacation trip through the western states with my son and grandson. We followed a route laid out by my oldest granddaughter, who is a whimsical sort.

She suggested several must-sees, including Mount Rushmore, Devils Tower, Yellowstone, etc., but threw in a few oddball attractions we would have otherwise not known to exist. These were works of public art, not unlike “Yellowwood Coral.”

The first was “Carhenge,” a series of works modeled on the far more famous Stonehenge in England. It, too, is far off the beaten path, just outside a small town in western Nebraska. Unlike the stone monoliths that have drawn millions of tourists to Great Britain, “Carhenge” is a circular array of old cars, standing on end and anchored into the ground.

These aren’t antique vehicles, but older cars that most of us still remember. Some of the models might have been our own first cars. They’re each coated in a rust-toned paint, and visitors have the opportunity for up close and personal looks. I don’t know if it’s allowed, but little children felt comfortable climbing onto some of the horizontal models.

It was opened in 1987 but became so popular for tourists that a visitors center was added in 2006. Its location outside the small town of Alliance and well off any interstate obviously hasn’t deterred visitors.

In the even smaller town of Avoca, Iowa, is another unusual piece — a Volkswagen Beetle perched atop metal stilts in the side yard of a large farm. Actually, the Volkswagen that resembles a spider is one of at least 15 similar sculptures around the country, but its agrarian location seems to add to its ambience. Besides, who would think of perching an iconic Beetle on metal stilts?

It draws visitors, and having blinked my way through Avoca, I can tell you there’s no other reason to stop by the small town.

Just off Interstate 90 near the town of Murdo, South Dakota, can be seen a huge representation of “Man Walking Dinosaur.” Actually, this doesn’t require a stop, just slowing down to take in the unusual view of the metal frames of a dinosaur tethered to a chain held by a man. It’s certainly not something one would expect to see on a long stretch of interstate highway, but once it’s noticed, it’s talked about.

“Man Walking Dinosaur,” the Volkswagen spider and “Carhenge” might not be everyone’s ideal of art. Just like “Yellowwood Coral,” I suspect each has been called “junk” more than once. But each is imaginative and causes people to talk about it.

“Carhenge” certainly attests to the drawing power of a bunch of old cars stuck in dirt, and each of the above is featured on numerous blogs and Facebook postings.

Maybe City Hall’s front lawn was the wrong place for “Yellowwood Coral,” but for the brief time it was there people stopped to look at it, take pictures and talk about it.

If it can’t be moved to a more prominent place, maybe it needs greater promotion. At the least, it deserves more respect.

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