Let me take you on a visual journey showing the creation of my first public artworks: from real birds, to silhouette photos, and finally to metal cut-outs flying above the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.
The ibis above is one of the two metal bird silhouettes that have been permanently installed on street corners in my neighborhood: Historic Kenwood of St. Petersburg, Florida. The other is this pelican.
They are part of a larger project called Street Corner Finials, which is currently in its second round. As of November over a dozen new art pieces have been added to street corners through the neighborhood in addition to the dozen or so that have been on display for the last few years. This public art project is one of the reasons Historic Kenwood won accolades as National Neighborhood of the Year in 2020.
Earlier this year, artists living in the Artist Enclave of Historic Kenwood were invited to submit proposals for finials. Two of my proposals were chosen and took me on a creative journey I had not been on. Without living here and being inspired to apply I would not have come up with these ideas, nor brought them to fruition. Oh, also I got paid to create these finials.
It was a very exiting, creative, personal, and professional process, at times unnerving – and incredibly rewarding.
My basic idea was: turn a my photos of a native bird in silhouette into a metal silhouette.
Now let me take you on a visual journey…
This is how I presented the ibis earlier this year on social media – proclaiming that if I ever started something called Saint Petersbird, this may be the logo. What’s significant to me about this photo is that I just eliminated the background in Photoshop. I did not turn this into a silhouette or changed anything about the bird itself.
In my application I left open HOW the metal birds would be created. I was thinking CORTEN steel or maybe even iron.
Then came the amazing news: my proposals for TWO birds had been selected. Now I had to figure out how I could actually get these birds made.
I was feeling slightly panicked about how I would get this done. It had to be a process that would allow for all the detail of the feathers etc. so it would look exactly like the photos. But it also had to be something that can withstand the Florida weather. Oh, and it had to fit into the budget and timeline. Then I discovered the Old Southeast neighborhood signs…
I tracked down the designer, Debby Hill, and then the company that had made the signs. But it turned out that company was too busy with big projects to be bothered with “one-off art pieces”.
Fortunately, now I knew how I wanted them made; I just needed to find someone else who was able to waterjet cut 3/4-inch aluminum. Unnerving days until I finally found Mike and Hydroknife of Tampa. And the price was within budget, too!
What seemed nearly impossible at first with just a mouse and a little MacBookPro, turned out to actually be quite rewarding because I learned a new skill with Paths, which allows you to bend lines instead of having to draw them freehand. Here I’m first creating the outline with those blue paths.
Finally I had the entire outline recreated as a (blue) path with some choices made about sharpening feathers on the pelican – and eliminating the space between the feet on the ibis.
… then I turned that path into an actual line…
… which I then filled with black – and also added the “bracket holder” that is necessary to attach the bird silhouette to the street pole.
These “redrawn” silhouettes are what I then submitted to Mike at HydroKnife.
These “redrawn” silhouettes are what I then submitted to Mike Piazza at HydroKnife.
And then Mike used this truly awesome waterjet machine to cut the birds out of aluminum.
A colleague then powder-coated them black.
Early in September, the new finials were announced and a few mock-ups were shown on the cover of our monthly 12-age neighborhood.
And then finally in September, I got to pick up the two birds from Mike Piazza at his workshop!
Such a phenomenal feeling to meet the person who helped make these works of public art a reality and immortalized these two birds.
And then finally Kenwood neighbors Jeff Danner, Mike Toth, and Darrell Gordon went through the laborious process and attached all of our finials to the street corners in time for the Bungalow Fest Garden Tour on November 6th.
Now you can see the metal ibis fly at the corner of 2nd Avenue N and 22nd Street – and the pelican at 2nd Ave N and 30th Street in Historic Kenwood, St. Petersburg, Florida.
Because there were size restrictions for the finials, and because they’re up quite high, they appear a bit smaller than you might expect. With their black color they’re as subtle as a real bird flying by against the bright sky. The challenge and fun is the same as with real-life-bird watching: either you see them or you don’t… but they are there.
In case you didn’t know (I didn’t) the word finial is most often used to describe the decorative end pieces on curtain roads. In this case, the first round of finials actual sits atop the street poles – again giving the final and finishing touch at the end of the pole. Due to city rules, the second round of finials had to be placed along the pole below the a certain height.
I’m so grateful for this public arts project and for having been able to move to this neighborhood and be inspired to participate and try something new. I don’t know where this creative journey will take me in the future – but I know this experience has opened up new avenues in my creative thinking and my confidence and my imagination…
With these pieces, as with my outdoor-photography-outdoors metal print project, I want to draw the viewers attention not just to the nature I captured, but hope to inspire them to pay more attention to nature around ares where people live and work – and even provoke them into considering that if we don’t protect nature and hold space for native plants and wildlife, one day we may only see them in photos and metal artwork.
More about the other Historic Kenwood Finials on the neighborhood website.
Early next year, I would like to organize a public event that includes a brief talk about the process of making these public art pieces and a walk from one silhouette to the other – all the while seeing which birds we might spot. And then refreshments at my new home, which just happens to be two blocks over from one of the birds.
P.S.: I already secured the URL stpetersbird.com and associated social media accounts. Who knows…
THIS BLOG POST WAS FIRST PUBLISHED (IN OCTOBER) FOR MY SUPPORTERS ON PATREON.COM/LUCIWEST