Hidden Gems

Public Art Around Town

by Robyn Goss-Bennai // April - May - June 2021

While I have personally studied art and love painting, I certainly know that not everyone is cognizant of all the benefits that visual art has to offer. There are several forms of art, and most people enjoy at least one on a daily basis. Music, for example, is an art that fills our car rides with entertainment. There is nothing like playing a song you love and belting out the lyrics that you may or may not actually know. Another form of art that seems to naturally become part of our lives from a young age is dance. Children love to move to the sounds of music – twirling in circles or bouncing up and down.

Unlike music or dance, most forms of visual art, such as paintings and sculptures, are more form-focused and viewers can be more deliberate in their interactions with the art. In other words, you can stand and look at the same piece for as little or as long as you want without any change in it. In this way, visual art provides the viewers the possibility to shape their experiences in ways that best meet their needs: meditative, reflective, inquisitive, or simply reacting to the artwork itself. Fortunately, we live in an area that has given our community an abundance of visually artistic hidden gems, sometimes in the least expected places.

The Town of Wake Forest Public Art Commission’s mission is to provide the community with a number of opportunities to enjoy visual art throughout the town. The Chair of the Public Arts Commission, Elizabeth Hayes, explained to me, “We hope public art creates a sense of place in Wake Forest – a place that draws people to spend time with their thoughts or with others.” So, if you’re out enjoying a bike ride on the greenway, walking the path at Joyner Park, strolling in Downtown, or just exploring Wake Forest on a warm, spring day, be on the lookout for the many murals and sculptures sprinkled around town, and take time to enjoy and appreciate these beautiful hidden gems.

Creating a lifelong love of art

Children are wonderful observers of art. Their perspective is pure and true to their hearts. I remember one of my children thinking aloud, “The painter must have been really sad that day, or he ran out of white paint,” upon seeing a painting that used dark shadows to create drama. Benefits for children who spend time observing visual art include higher thinking skills, creativity, understanding of emotions, curiosity, and a connection to the community.

There are four pieces available for observation at the Renaissance Centre, located at 405 Brooks Street in Wake Forest. In front of the building is a sculpture by Jordan Parah, titled “Dancing in the Moonlight.” It is an interesting sculpture that can lend itself to an engaging conversation with your child. For example, you may ask questions such as:
– Why do you think the artist named it “Dancing in the Moonlight?”
– Does it make you think of moonlight?
– What do you like about it, and how does it make you feel?
– How do you think it was made?
– How long do you think it took to make?
– From what do you think it is made?
– How do you think it was transported here?

There is an endless amount of questions that can be asked about Parah’s sculpture, or any other piece of art. Focusing on feelings provided by the artwork, an exploration of meaning, and a discussion about materials is a great way to get the conversation started. Additionally, there are three murals at the Renaissance Centre. There is a large permanent mural on the side of the building by Taylor White, “Flora and Fauna” (pictured) and two temporary murals, “If Mother Nature Could Dance” by Maureen Seltzer and “NC Spring Road” by Delphine Peller. You can also discover another fantastic sculpture until June, “Orpheus” by Charles Pilkey, just down the road in H.L. Miller Park.

History, Understanding, and Empathy

There is often an opportunity to connect art to other aspects of life. Art and history are intimately intertwined. Art is often a reflection of the current events during its creation. There is much to be gained when studying it from a historical perspective – for instance, a greater understanding of the society and the quality of life of the people living during that time. Within Smith Creek Soccer Park, the “FREEDOM: An Homage to Martin Luther King, Jr.” sculpture by Vandorm Hinnant presents a chance to remember the life of this impactful civil rights leader and the positive influence he had on the lives of so many people, both then and today.

Finding Peace

Stress has been a constant for lots of people recently. Many have faced financial challenges, worked in less-than-ideal circumstances, felt isolated, or have experienced stress thanks to online classes and sheer boredom. The good news is that there are two art installations at Joyner Park that not only allow you to enjoy nature, but also provide a place for introspection. Jim Gallucci’s “Oak Leaf Horizon Gate IV” sits in the park next to a bench for viewing. Focusing on the intricate details of the leaves and the many shapes that form within those details creates something on which to concentrate and help your brain relax, allowing you to refocus on the beauty of the piece. Also located at Joyner Park is the incredible 2,000 feet linear “Ribbon Wall” by Brooks Burleson. His creation uses ancient techniques and knowledge that don’t require mortar. This wonderful form of art that we are so fortunate to have in our community, (and that beautifully graces our cover), spans both space and time.

There are many other visual hidden gems waiting to be enjoyed around town. Download the Town of Wake Forest app to find a Public Art Tour that highlights some of the many artworks in our area. There is an active arts community here, so consider supporting local artists by visiting galleries, shops selling their wares, and artisan fairs. The Public Art Commission also sponsors the greenway beautification Sewer Structure Beautification Project. Groups and individuals paint these structures along the paths – a great way for children and adults alike to share their love of art with the community. This opportunity is open to anyone interested in submitting a proposal. Information can be found on the Town of Wake Forest website.

It is my hope that you will find new and creative ways to enjoy the art that surrounds us. Sometimes, the routine of life can hide many beautiful sights in its repetitiveness. These hidden gems that started as raw materials and were shaped as expressions of the artists in order for you to create your own impressions are truly gifts to enjoy.

Article photo and front cover photo courtesy of Town of Wake Forest.

Robyn Goss-Bennai

Local artist and instructor at Pint + Paint at Norse Brewing Co. in Downtown Wake Forest.