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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Art In Downtown Bristol Draws Varied Responses

"Feminine Entwinement" by Bristol, Tennessee artist Val Lyle is moved into place near the Country Music Mural on State Street. (Photo By David Crigger|Bristol Herald Courier)

By Gary Gray | Bristol Herald Courier | August 07, 2008

*** This story was published in the Bristol Herald Courier on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2008. ***

What is it?

Ask the artists who created the 10 new works of art placed Wednesday around both sides of downtown Bristol and you'll likely get a philosophic slant.

But ask passersby ? those who are getting their first glimpse ? and you're apt to see heads tilt from side to side, witness a little shoulder scrunching and then get an unpredictable verbal response.

"Cinnamon ? yeah, it does look like cinnamon," remarked Gary Biggs, of Piney Flats, Tenn., as he watched while "Feminine Entwinement" was installed at the Farmer's Market. "Oh ? feminine. But what the [heck] is it?"

Val Lyle, of Bristol, Tenn., created the sculpture from large brown, twisting strands of baling twine, heavily covered in clear acrylic.

The artist said she doesn't mind what people say about her work, as long as it makes people think.

Throughout the day on Wednesday, Lyle and other artists installed their works for the 2008-09 version of Art in Public Places, a community project organized by the Arts Alliance Mountain Empire. It is the project's third year.

Lyle, whose works have been shown nationwide, said the idea for her caramel-colored figure started with simple bailing twine from her grandparents' farm.

"It is a figurative sculpture in a contemporary format," she said. "I'm trying to cue the viewer into, 'Hey, we're working with something different here.' I'm having a dialogue with the viewer."

The rope is a metaphor for what ties people down and for what binds people together, she said.

Jordan Ford, of Mendota, Va., was selling fresh vegetables at the Farmer's Market when he took a gander at "Feminine Entwinement."

"Looks like a person," he said. "But I honestly don't know what the artist is trying to say."

Arts Alliance Mountain Empire is sponsoring the project, which this year, has been financed with private and business donations totaling more than $28,000.

City workers from both Bristols are helping place the sculptures.

The public can take a walking tour today to view the decorative creations and meet most of the artists. The walk begins at 1:30 p.m. at the front plaza of the Bristol Public Library.

"We're running with the big dogs," Sandee Woolley, an Art in Public Places committee member, said about the quality of art going up downtown. "This is such a big thing for Bristol. You've got artists whose works are also on display in New York and in galleries and venues everywhere."

Meanwhile, "Character," a tall, red, steel figure was installed outside the former Ruth King Antiques building.

"I first got the idea when I was watching a television show about Chinese writing," said artist Sam Burns of Chattanooga. "In China, letters are called characters. I thought the shapes were very beautiful."
Remember, when it comes to art, one person's watermelon may be another person's rutabaga.

"The first question I have is, what is it?" said Robert Fields, of Bristol, Va., as he contemplated Burns' work, rubbing his chin. "It sort of looks like a leg. Whatever it is, it's different."

Burns' second creation, "Connections in Yellow," was installed at the upper level of the Bristol Public Library. After Burns touched up his concoction of steel bars with yellow spray paint, a group of people came walking by the piece.

"Uhm ... Uhm," was all the critique 3-year-old Kira Adams could muster.

Her friend, 11-year-old Niki Trivett, studied the odd-looking shape and came to the following conclusion.

"Looks like a person," she said while her lips twisted to one side of her face. "That part looks like the head, and the stuff sticking out is the hair."

The final work of art, a 500-pound oddity dubbed, "Creepy Crawly," was placed in front of the library at about 5 p.m. It turns out the artist, Adam Walls of Pembroke, N.C., drummed up the yellow steel spider from childhood memories.

"A lot of my work deals with fantasy and escapism, and I've tried to relate what has gone on around me ? especially with toys I played with as a kid," he said. I try to make things that are playful but also say things about me."

The steel sculpture has a circular crawl space in the middle and a wind-up key on top. Walls said he added the key to "stay in touch with his 'toy side.' "

The meaning and value of a work of art appears to be in the eye of the beholder. But regardless of who sees what, it makes people think, and that is what Lyle and other artists were aiming for in the first place.