As the springtime sun calls out the green shoots of plants across Westminster, a new public art sculpture of green arching stems has sprung up downtown. These, however, are metal.
“Sprouts” is a public art piece by Union Mills-based artist Thomas Sterner commissioned for the city and installed this week just outside the former bank at 45 W. Main St. The building was purchased by the city and will house administrative offices after renovations begin in fiscal year 2020.
The official unveiling of “Sprouts” takes place Saturday at 1 p.m. at the corner of Bond and Main Streets. After that, the party will migrate to the the Carroll Arts Center for a reception with light refreshments.
For Sterner, the symbolism of new growth fit for a city whose motto is “Where history meets tomorrow.”
“The compound arcs of each stem, seen as changing curves from each vantage point, imply attraction, interaction and cooperation. In total, I want it to be a positive, hopeful and interesting piece that is safe, structurally sound and maintenance free,” he wrote in his proposal.
Sterner said he was thrilled to be selected. Though he has been involved in other public art pieces through his employment this is the first he has done as an individual artist, and it is close to home.
“I've been an artist for a very long time, but mostly work for galleries. So this was the first time that I did an outdoor commission,” he said.
The city is also excited about the project, said William Mackey, director of the city’s Department of Community Planning & Development.
“Locating this beautiful symbol of new growth at a prominent intersection in Downtown Westminster has only added to the excitement,” he said via email.
It was important to Sterner to see “Sprouts” installed in the spring, even though the administrative building renovations have not even entered the construction phase.
Westminster has put extra effort into the installation, he said, from digging the footers, to prepping the site and transporting the sculptures. Mother Nature threw her own challenges, and the group dealt for several hours with a stuck truck on installation day.
“The City’s Streets Department, working closely with [Sterner], put forth a Herculean effort to make it all come together,” Mackey said.
Said Sterner: “It was a lot of work for them. But they they were cooperating the whole way. I've got nothing but good things to say about the city.”
Though Sterner builds things strong, the engineering requirements for a public piece were on another level. The footers for each of the sprouts is 9-foot deep concrete.
“You know, in a 200 mile an hour wind storm, if there were 20 college students hanging from each of the leaves, would it hold? And then multiply that by two,” he joked about the engineering firm’s review process.
“It's definitely well built and going to last a very, very long time. Longer than I'm alive, I'm sure,” he said.
The project was funded by the Maryland State Arts Council, the Carroll County Arts Council, and the City of Westminster.
Though they are sturdy, the flange and bolts at the base of each sprout allowed them to be adjusted after installation, so Sterner could place them at the perfect angle to each other.
“I really feel like there is an interaction between the two sprouts,” he said. “As you're walking by it, it almost seems like they're moving, but it's just the position, the orientation between the two of them.”
In the sunlight, the sculptures’ shadows will almost walk across the earth as the sun moves in the sky and filters through the cutouts of the metal leaves.
Sterner hopes viewers will find symbolism in the way they reach toward each other and overlap where the leaves have unfurled.
Sterner’s large-scale public work collaborations include the Gates at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Flying Geese at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, and the Marble Curtain at The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., according to a news release from the Carroll County Arts Council.
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The city has already begun to incorporate the Sprouts imagery into city-supported outreach.