Old Growth

Submitted by Ben Butler

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Project

Client: Overton Park Conservancy

Location: Memphis, United States

Completion date: 2017

Artwork budget: $50,000

Project Team

Client

Overton Park Conservancy

Artist

Ben Butler

Overview

A permanent structure commissioned by the Overton Park Conservancy in Memphis, Tennessee, the archway serves as an entry portal to the virgin forest at the center of the park and references a range of natural patterns, including the annular rings of the old growth trees. The 24 foot-tall sculpture is fabricated from 1/4 inch plate steel. Over 800 individual pieces were hand-cut and welded to compose the structure, which was erected in one piece. A finish coat of paint was applied in 11 subtle hues of grey-brown, mimicking the tones of the surrounding tree barks.

Goals

The primary goal of this public project was to transform the site into a gateway, welcoming visitors to the Overton Park old growth forest. A short, unused road previously joined a small parking lot to the network of pedestrian trails that meander through the woods - the only entrance on the eastern side of the park. The entire road was replaced with an artist-designed concrete trail, scaled for bike and pedestrian traffic, which naturally guides visitors onto the trail system. Arching over the trail is a 24 foot-tall steel sculpture, both a symbolic and a literal portal, marking the end of an urban bike trail, and evoking the forms of the forest beyond.

Process

While the sculpture itself was design, fabricated, and installed by the artist and his team, the transformation of the site itself involved an in-depth collaboration with the Overton Park Conservancy public art committee. The details of the surrounding landscape and pathway design required careful negotiation in order to prohibit motor vehicle traffic while remaining as welcoming as possible to pedestrians and bikers.