BUCKHANNON – What was once a structurally failed retaining wall has been transformed into “Sails Fence,” the largest piece of colorful, eye-catching public art in the City of Buckhannon.
The mix of green, blue, yellow, orange, red and white hues on fabric stretched across a steel framework at the corner of Traders Alley and Milkman Lane gives the alley leading from Main Street to Jawbone Park just the kind of festive feel city architect Bryson VanNostrand was going for, he said Saturday evening during its unveiling.
“The thing about fabric for me is, it’s so festive. It feels like flags and tents and tassels. Fabric is a really cheap way of having a really big effect in a public space,” VanNostrand said. “I’ve never designed anything like this before.”
Saturday’s 5 p.m. unveiling of “Sails Fence” was hosted by ART 26201 and the City of Buckhannon.
VanNostrand said the piece, which is meant to pop, is just another step in the process of transforming the once-rickety alley into a downtown arts district.
“I’ve been saying for some time that some serious [stuff] is going to be going down at the corner of Traders Alley and Milkman Lane,” VanNostrand said. “I’m not saying it’s the Haight-Ashbury, but there’s a similar vibe. We’ve been trying to get this alley developed as an arts district.”
The archway at the entrance, the installation of “Monkey Mural,” the building of new sidewalks and a host of utility enhancement undertaken by the city street department and other municipal departments have all been part of polishing up the alley.
“Now, we’ve got a good, pedestrian-friendly path from Jawbone on the south end, and on the north end, we’ve got the Dairy Queen, which is fantastic,” VanNostrand said. “Having that Dairy Queen is just fantastic as a piece of history, and of course, everyone likes ice cream.”
Eventually, Colonial Theatre will be finished two doors down from Dairy Queen, and VanNostrand said he sees the ice cream shop and theater as the “anchor” of the walkway’s north end.
The original retaining wall had been built about four decades ago, wasn’t structurally sound and had required multiple phases of patchwork.
“One of the issues was, as we increased foot traffic back in here, the wall wasn’t very high, so folks could easily fall over it,” VanNostrand said, “so, we knew we needed to replace the wall, so working with the property owner here behind us and of course, the city and ART 26201, we designed a new retaining wall with the idea that there would be a surface for art on top of it.”
City crews built the new retaining wall and installed the structural steel work, while ART 26201 furnished the artwork on structure.
VanNostrand said the project was made possible by Buckhannon Mayor David McCauley and Buckhannon City Council members, who have supported the idea that art plays a crucial role in economic development.
“Right now, it’s a perfect storm in Buckhannon that we have a mayor and an elected council that understands what these projects can do to a town, and they want it to happen,” VanNostrand said. “We haven’t had that kind of reasonably complete agreement on the economic development strategies that this town needs, and that the arts are a clear part of it, so I feel like we’re really in a sweet spot. If the city hadn’t stepped up to make this happen, it wouldn’t have happened.”
“The celebration today is mostly about the vision that the city has right now,” he added. “If go to any town a half-hour or an hour from us in any direction – I would say any town in West Virginia – and you would be hard-pressed to find that perfect storm of vision and resources and political clout.”
VanNostrand and ART 26201 members presented McCauley with a framed drawing of “Sails Fence” as a thank-you and birthday gift. McCauley, too, thanked a host of individuals who made the project possible.
“Success is an infectious, contagious thing, and what I mean by that is, three years and change ago, when I became mayor, I was quick to latch onto the guys that were meeting the successes … that we were on the cusp of, and I mean Bryson and CJ Rylands and so many other folks,” he said. “And it’s not just about art: It’s the expansion of our flowers, the guys working on the Upshur County Trails (mountain bike/hiking/running) trails out by the high school, and we are on the cusp of possibly getting a grant that will connect the River Trail all the way out to the high school and beyond.”
“There’s nothing that when we work together in this community, we can’t do, and I truly mean that,” McCauley added.
The mayor dubbed “Sails Fence” the city’s “next big thing.”
“At the outset, I want to thank the property owners up and down this 440-feet-long corridor that connects the coolest downtown in West Virginia to the most perfect park in West Virginia,” he said. “This very space was made possible through our collaboration with John Moss and his family, and we all are very mindful that all of our successes are made possible through partnering with our residents and businesses.
“But we also want to thank the Chapman Technical Group, the Fosters and CrossFit Gym, Davis Health, CJ Martin, Robie Messenger and the Newman heirs. Everyone has given something to make our Trader’s Alley project possible, to bring it to fruition.”