Several weeks ago artist Ann Hobgood contacted me because she had an idea for a sculpture that would be part of the annual Willow Walk at Burlington’s Willowbrook Park. When she told me what she wanted to create, I wasn’t sure how she was going to pull it off. Saturday I found out.
I wasn’t a bit surprised to see that she had done so beautifully.
Ann’s vision was to create a life-sized piece constructed of her usual materials — recycled metals and wood from nearly anywhere — old gutters, downspouts, nail kegs you name it and Ann’s probably worked with it. She planned to take those items and make a park-style bench with a man on it reading a newspaper. She wanted to incorporate the Times-News and asked for my advice and help if necessary.
I was delighted to help — not that she needed much. Ann, who makes her home in Glencoe Mill Village, is incredibly creative with boundless ingenuity. She sees things in bolts, plumbing fixtures or ice scrapers that escape most people.
Saturday, she made my day with her newest work. She calls it “Old Friends from Burlington.” What she finally put together was a man and woman on a bench — the man in a cowboy-style hat that Stetson never dreamed of is reading what appears to be a very real copy of the Times-News. The woman sitting on the opposite end of the bench with her feet up against the man’s leg, has lively curls bursting from her straw hat. It’s a playful but comforting image right out of Norman Rockwell — if Norman Rockwell used a blowtorch instead of a paint brush.
It’s an amazing piece in every way.
Ann’s idea was sparked by the sight of people reading newspapers in a city landscape. While some might contend that the use of recycled and discarded parts is somehow a metaphor for the future of print newspapers, I think it’s more of an homage to an enduring image. There is a very real and familiar community tie to a newspaper that still exists — even as the business moves toward digital publication. Ann is a huge fan of newspapers, and it shows in this work of art. I’m pretty inspired by it.
Ann told me she decided to pair the man in the sculpture with a woman to balance the look. One side of the bench simply seemed too empty. The torso of the man was made with an old barrel that once contained nails. Ann kept it for years because it belonged to her father.
“I figured I wasn’t ever going to do anything with it, why not use it here,” she said.
The newspaper itself is about the only thing not recycled and it took some help for Ann to produce a replica that would last outdoors. She decided to contact Steven Durland an artist in the Saxapahaw area who owns a studio he calls Bourbon, Dogs and Art. Steve takes images from nature — leaves, flowers, pine straw — and designs large banners. Many are made specificially to be displayed outdoors. The work is produced on material created to repel the elements. Steve made the newspaper look exactly like the real thing — only no ink comes off on the hands.
Ann said “Old Friends from Burlington” drew quite a bit of attention Saturday at the Willow Walk. People had a lot of questions about it and Ann was happy to answer them all. When I was there a small boy looked it over in great detail for every bit of 10 minutes.
By coincidence, though, Saturday coincided with our publication of a story reporting that our newspaper had been sold to a Florida-based media company. Ann said that was a major topic on people’s minds when they came by to view her art. Many seemed confused about what the sale would mean for the newspaper. They had tons of questions, she said.
That was good to know. I’m happy to find out that people in our community care about what the future holds for the Times-News. And what I can say is that they shouldn’t worry in the least. We don’t expect major changes. We plan to continue to do the best job we can reporting news for our readers.
We’re not going anywhere.
UPDATE: “Old Friends from Burlington” was purchased at the Willow Walk by the Burlington Downtown Corporation and will be placed downtown in a well-trafficked area that’s to be determined. Nice for this sculpture and by extension the Times-News to be a part of downtown’s streetscape.