One might expect to see the beauty of nature along South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail, but not necessarily beauty made by human hands. Art on the Trail is changing that. Now those who enjoy walking, biking or jogging on the trail, which runs from the mountains to the sea, can experience several art installations designed to highlight the wonder of the natural world.
In December 2011, Pocket Productions teamed with Palmetto Conservation Foundation to offer artists the opportunity to create large-scale pieces for the Midlands section of the Palmetto Trail. The selected artists presented their proposals on May 11, 2012 during a special “Playing After Dark: Art on the Trail” event at Riverfront Park that included local dancers and musicians. Jurors included Harriett Green, director of Visual Arts for the S.C. Arts Commission; Chris Robinson, U.S.C. professor in sculpture; Booth Chilcutt, Executive Director of the Sumter Cultural Commission; Anna Redwine, President of the Design League at the Columbia Museum of Art; and Rudy Mancke, Director of Nature Programming for ETV.
Ultimately, three artists were chosen to have their works represented on the trail: Jen Pepper, Brian Rust and Roy Paschal. Each was given a $1,200 commission to create his or her piece, as well as an assistant to help collect materials. All projects were given a one-month deadline. Artists were required to use some materials from the trail to compose their pieces. “We encouraged them to use invasive species. Their removal actually helps the environment,” says Sherry Warren, executive director of Pocket Productions.
The commissioned pieces vary in size and subject matter, but all three have a connection to birds. The completed artworks resemble items and animals found in nature, providing the viewer a window into the artists’ perspective on the natural world.
Jen, a professor at Cazenovia College in New York, constructed woven birds’ nests, spider webs and brightly colored crocheted patterns over rock forms from natural plant materials found in the area. Her pieces are located at Riverfront Park, on Main Street and on Wheat Street in Shandon. Brian, a professor of art at Augusta State University, also focused on nests. Sherry says his work, found at the Peak to Prosperity section of the Palmetto Trail, “places the public in the resting space of the nest to provide a different perspective on the nest as an item viewed in nature.”
Roy, a professional artist based in Columbia, was trained at the Ringling School of Art, the Scottsdale Artist School and the University of Oklahoma and is a member of the South Carolina Water Media Society and a guest instructor at the Columbia Museum of Art. He created “Migration Reflections,” which depicts three large geese frozen in flight over the Columbia canal at Riverfront Park. Roy used bamboo, river reeds and invasive vine materials in the structure and the art is positioned so it is reflected in the water.
Roy says that he has always been interested in creating natural art. “When I saw the call for artists, I began to kick around some ideas. I love birds and think their migrations are fascinating.”
He adds, “When I was working on the project, many people would ask what I was doing. When I would explain and point out the role the reflections play, I could see this moment of comprehension. The viewers would break out in a smile and just say, ‘cool’ or ‘neat.’ Kids are the best. I hope the public enjoys this installation.”
This is the first time art has been installed on The Palmetto Trail, which was conceived in the mid 1990s and comprises three sections: Upstate, Midlands and Lowcountry. It begins in the Oconee area and ends at Awendaw on the coast. Today, it is two-thirds complete, with 290 miles open to the public, but it ultimately will span 425 miles, winding around lakes, along rivers, past mountain ridges and by historic sites.
Pocket Productions will unveil an installation on the Vista Greenway later this year and plans to invite artists to submit proposals for work to be displayed on the Upstate and the Lowcountry portions of the Palmetto Trail soon. Sherry says Art on The Trail has been so well received in the Midlands, she expects it will garner much attention there as well and hopes to have five to seven commissions for both areas.
When the art begins to naturally decay, it will be removed. Until then, those who enjoy the Palmetto Trail will get a peek at more than just nature.
Visit www.pocketproductions.org/artonthetrail for an interactive map with pinpoints showing where Art on the Trail is located. Clicking on the “pins” brings up the original sketch of the art, a description of the materials used to assemble the art and photographs of the artists and volunteers.