By Jeff Keeling
Charlie Brouwer and a few of his new friends hoisted a strange-looking work of wood from the bed of his pickup truck Friday and carried it gently to a concrete slab near Buffalo and Tipton streets. Within 10 minutes, “Hurrying Home,” a locust wood sculpture characterized by a house on top of a human figure, had been set in place as part of Johnson City’s public art program.
Brouwer, a retired Radford University art professor from Willis, Va., is one of 11 artists whose work has just been placed in an area between the University Parkway/State of Franklin intersection and Buffalo and Market streets. About half the works are in Founders Park, where another of Brouwer’s locust figures, “He Stopped and Turned to the Light,” will stay put after being purchased last year.
Brouwer knows Public Art Committee chair Catherine Murray, an East Tennessee State University professor, and said he was pleased when he learned the city was inaugurating its program last year. His work has graced downtowns in several other cities and he likes to think it makes a difference in downtown revitalization.
“I come into cities like this often, where they’re just starting to redo things in their inner city, trying to make it more attractive for people to come and they’re using artwork to do it,” Brouwer said. “It works just perfect for me.”
The new set of works replaces most of a group placed last year, but will be in place two years instead of just one. Works are for sale, and two were purchased last year and will stay in Founders Park; Brouwer’s and “Metamorphosis.”
Brouwer works almost exclusively in locust wood. He had begun sculpting human figures with treated wood, which has some detractors for its use of chemicals, when he and his wife moved to the country. A neighbor, Elijah Duncan, enlightened him to the durability of locust, which grows all around Brouwer’s property.
“He said those fence posts over there will last 100 years,” Brouwer recalled. “When we were doing our garden he just gave me locust posts he had stockpiled in the woods that he wasn’t going to use. He was a really generous, kind man who just welcomed us into his neck of the woods.”
Brouwer reckoned he’s done 25-30 locust figures. He uses an oil-based deck stain, and puts the pieces together with deck screws. He uses a band saw to cut the locust he harvests into various shapes, and turns to his scrap pile for smaller parts.
“Gaps don’t bother me, because our eye fills that in, and I want the figures to be kind of generalized and not too specific. Then it becomes something that people can kind of participate with in looking at it.”
City public works crews just wrapped up placing the following works – two at University Parkway/State of Franklin, five in Founders Park, two near Tupelo Honey Café and two on Buffalo near Market and Tipton streets: “Midsummer” by Hanna Jubran, Grimesland, N.C.; “Basin and Range” (Todd Frahm, Swannanoa, N.C.); “Got Oil” (Marvin Tadlock, Bristol, Va.); “Red Green Construction” (Ray Katz, Pontiac, Mich.); “Tendril” (Marc Moulton, Statesboro, Ga.); “Foos” (Duke Oursler, Macomb, Ill.); “A Refusal to Stop and Ask for Directions” (Harry McDaniel, Asheville, N.C.); “Bear Family” (Jim Collins, Signal Mountain); Semi-Circle Balance Study #9” (Matthew Giovanni Amante, Winterville, N.C.); and “Apollos-Scorn-for Artetude” (Frahm).