It’s turning into a banner year for public outdoor sculpture in Abilene.
The city added its newest Storybook Sculpture Project piece in June – “Winnie” the bear in the Adamson-Spalding Storybook Garden. In July, the city installed an edition of an international tourist attraction called “The Singing Ringing Tree” along with four other donated contemporary sculptures. And in September, the city celebrates the 42nd year of the Abilene Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition – the longest running community initiative public art exhibit in Texas.
These projects bring the total number of public outdoor sculptures to a whopping 68!
“Discovering the sculptures is not only a wonderful experience for visitors, but also benefits all venues within the cultural district, providing a visual mechanism that reinforces social connectivity, while serving as a tool for economic growth and sustainability to enhance the unique character of our community,” said Lynn Barnett, executive director of the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council.
The city’s love affair with sculpture spans 42 years – when the Abilene Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition began in 1980. Every other year, four artists are invited by the Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition Committee to exhibit a piece of contemporary art along the grassy area next to the railroad that runs along North and South 1st Street. The sculptures stay on view for two years, although some have been purchased or left on view permanently, adding to the city’s collection.
This year’s participating artists are Anthony Huff, Dewane Hughes, Glory Hartsfield and Jeffie Brewer. The artists will be in Abilene Sept. 16-17 for a public reception and to celebrate opening art receptions at downtown and university galleries for other artists. This long-time collaboration between art organizations strengthens Abilene’s reputation as a center for the arts, Barnett said.
The sculptures are one of the reasons downtown Abilene became one of the first five cultural district recognized by the Texas Commission on the Arts.
“Abilene is a model arts community that has harnessed the power of cultural resources to stimulate economic development,” said Gary Gibbs, TCA executive director. “Abilene’s use of outdoor art is energizing public spaces and creating a unique identity.”
The TCA has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to support art initiatives in the Abilene Cultural District.
Abilene’s reputation as a center for the arts led a Travis County art collector to recently donate five contemporary sculptures that cost nearly a half million dollars to the city. The most significant of the pieces is “The Singing Ringing Tree,” a wind-powered sound sculpture made up of nearly 27 tons of cascading pipes. The piece was installed east of Frontier Texas.
“This is an exciting project, and you can anticipate that this masterpiece will bring a lot of smiles and interest to Abilene,” said John King, owner of JK Welding, which was commissioned to create the piece in 2017 based on the design by Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu, principles of the architectural firm Tonkin Liu. The sculpture is positioned to maximize the wind blowing across the pipes to generate a humming sound. “The Singing Ringing Tree” in England became a tourist attraction and was named one of the Top 10 places for “sound art” in the world.
The sculpture is said to be inspired by a children’s film that was in turn inspired by a German fairy tale about a spoiled princess who demands the Singing Ringing Tree from a would-be suitor. The tree’s leaves ring with music for those with love in their hearts. The connection between the sculpture and the fairy tale makes the piece a great fit for the Storybook Capital of America®, Barnett said.
By Sidney Schuhmann Levesque