Artist pushed for colorful JFX bridges

The Baltimore Sun

Stan Edmister was an artist of public works, filling Baltimore with a parrot-green bridge paint scheme and fanciful playground equipment. He was also well-known for feeding hungry crowds his grilled mushroom sandwiches at city farmers' markets.

The former Woodberry resident died of cancer Sunday at his home in Warrenton, Va. He was 69.

"For the past 36 years, Stan Edmister has been one of Baltimore's more quietly influential citizens," a 2004 Sun article said.

"I've always been contrary, always been an outsider," he said.

Born Stanley Clark Edmister III in Tulsa, Okla., and raised on a farm in Lee's Summit, Mo., he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree at the Kansas City Art Institute and moved to Baltimore to earn a master's degree in sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Mr. Edmister lived on Franklintown Road near Dickeyville and received considerable press attention when he created a then-unconventional playground at Calvert and 26th streets.

"It has a tripod in one corner, which anchors two cable or trolley rides and several 20-foot arms. ... Dead hardwood tree trunks salvaged from the city's forestry division add a natural dimension. ... Wood chips are spread over the entire space for both esthetics and a safe landing pad," a Sun article said in 1979.

Mr. Edmister's playgrounds (he also built them in East Baltimore, Cherry Hill, Hampden and in Park Heights) proved so popular that he often repaired the swinging truck tires and other moving parts. In later years, some of their features were criticized by child-safety advocates.

"He invented the free-form, nontraditional sculptural playground," said Alfred W. Barry III, former city assistant planning director. "He later gave Baltimore one of the first environmental art applications with his use of color on the bridges."

In the late 1980s, Mr. Edmister won a $10,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant to design a color scheme for the Guilford Avenue Bridge over the Jones Falls Expressway.

He received a second grant to select colors for 15 other bridges that cross Interstate 83 -- called "the Gateway of Color." For the next 15 years, city bridge painters were guided by his color choices -- industrial oranges, Asian yellows and rusty browns.

"I think the colors I choose blend with an urban environment," he told a Sun reporter in 1997. "They make some comment about Baltimore being a postindustrial town. The idea was to celebrate bridges as structures, bring a little life to the experience of commuting up and down the road, and to do so at no additional cost to the public [than that of a regular paint job]."

In 2003, he tangled with then-Mayor Martin O'Malley, who suggested that the Howard Street Bridge be painted a bright kelly green. In a City Hall Web site vote, participants chose the rust color favored by Mr. Edmister by 2,689 votes to Mr. O'Malley's choice, which received 2,450 votes.

"I submit to the will of the people," Mr. O'Malley said. "To paraphrase Jefferson, I fear for my countrymen, that they may receive the bridge colors they deserve."

In later years, Mr. Edmister moved to a house in a wooded section of Woodberry and began picking edible mushrooms and grilling them for sale at the downtown and Waverly farmers' markets.

"I saw that mushrooms grew naturally in the wild," he said in a Sun article. "I felt this was a wonderful opportunity to show that urban forests have economic value. I provided mushrooms grilled in a pita with condiments to show people that they were delicious and a great resource. ... The business got so big it was almost out of control, but it showed two important things: one, that urban forests have economic benefit, and two, that public service and private benefit work together."

He also became an advocate of the wooded area where he lived after Loyola College sought the area for a student athletic use.

No service is planned.

Survivors include a companion, Karen Dorschner of Warrenton; two sons, Duncan Edmister and Erik Edmister, both of St. Louis; two brothers, Lewis Edmister of Kansas City, Mo., and David Edmister of Omaha, Neb.; a sister, Karen Randall of Kansas City, Mo.; and a grandson.

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