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Like Watching a Flower Bloom

A peek behind the scenes with one of the "Art on the Beltline" artists

It’s one thing to see a finished piece of art.

Being able to watch the way it comes to be is a different kind of thrill.

Taking in last year’s inaugural Art on the Beltline project – 30-plus creations distributed in stretches along an 8 mile trail – sometimes felt like a cross between a scavenger hunt and a gallery with its walls blown out. The unpredictable thrill of seeing what came next pulled me ever forward, to see what lay around the next curve.

It made me wish there was a way to rewind the clock and watch it unfold from the ground up.

Earlier this summer, two of the artists selected for this year’s show – both of whom live in Virginia-Highland – generously agreed to let me in on their journey from original idea to final product.

Jaynie Gillman Crimmins was looking up, on that hot June Saturday when “Art on the Beltline” staffers led a tour of the available terrain behind Piedmont Park. She wanted a promising spot in the trees from which to drape her sculptured chain.

Misao Cates was looking down, for an ideal patch of land upon which she could create her mandala of natural materials.

Both knew finding the right spot for their work would be as important as the art itself.

Where and how would it sit? Would it be shaded, or bathed in sun? Under a bridge or high up on a hill?

As two of 66 artists and performers selected for this year’s exhibit  – which opens Sept. 10, and includes even more spots along the historic loop that circles the city’s core  – they knew every detail mattered.

Since then, both have chosen spots further from their own neighborhood.

Last week, I checked in with Crimmins, who was stopping by the Beltline’s downtown offices to pick up raw materials for her project: giant bags of shredded paper. Maybe any paper would do, but her winning proposal called for making this piece from shreds generated by the Beltline office as it created the city’s largest temporary public art show. That kind of layering of meaning and materials is central to Crimmins’ art.

For her first public art project, the former art teacher decided to stretch, in terms of both scale and materials.

She’s deep into the construction of her biggest work yet, pushing herself beyond what she already knows how to do with thread and beeswax, wire mesh and plastic wrap. (See her website – www.jayniecrimmins.com – for a look at the delicate forms and shapes she’s known for.)

And once she got her location – the Kirkwood Avenue entryway to the Beltline in Reynoldstown, often thronged by neighborhood kids on their bikes – she threw away her original design and started from scratch.

“When they told me where I would be installing this, I rethought it,” Crimmins said of the location that’s only blocks from her studio at the Arts Exchange in Grant Park. “The whole point is to welcome people to the Beltline, so I wanted it to be more welcoming.”

The visual that occurred to her then, she says, was bunting – the kind of draping you see around parade floats and podiums, often in the colors of the flag.

But hers – she imagined a chain of ten giant crescents, hanging high above the trail – would need to be transparent, so light would stream through in both directions.

Hmmmm.  How to make the thing she could see so clearly in her mind’s eye?

She wasn’t sure immediately. But figuring it out, she says, has been a big part of the thrill.

Switching on the AC at her bright and spacious workspace last week, she hoisted her latest stash of shredded paper to the pile in the center of the room. The first of 10 giant crescents, which she’d built of wire and plastic and flocked with strips of paper, was resting on its side under a new coat of marine-grade resin.

Today’s discovery would be seeing how it looked after it dried.

“I was painting it on originally,” she said, lifting the heavy form up and surveying its back. “But then I wondered what would happen if I poured it on.”

The top of the sculpture was perfect: the curve of fluffy paper shreds was bright and now waterproof; light shone through the plastic form just as planned. The only hiccup was the way the excess resin had dried around the edges, in little discs that looked like hardened caramel.

Oh well, Crimmins said with a laugh, snapping off the hard bits.

She’d find a better way to cover the next one.

But the design, and look of each component, was coming along just as she’d hoped.

Art on the Beltline opens on Sept. 10. A future column will check back in with Misao Cates. To learn more, visit the website at http://art.BeltLine.org

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