Public art, sans gallery

Life imitates art in Yellow Springs

By Tammy Newsom

Photo: Davis Street Propeller Bush, artist: Bruce Parker; photo: Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce

Public art displays may seem eccentric in most American towns, but not in Yellow Springs. Yellow Springs is dedicated to artistic expression as a means to bring the community together, which just might be the type of utopia Salvador Dali or Andy Warhol would have embraced.

2014’s Mills Lawn Safety Fence Art project – which turned a new construction area into a public mural gallery – is just one example of the community’s commitment to making art.

“A normal community would have put up a chain link construction fence,” said Karen Wintrow, executive director of the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce. “Our community decided to put up the art panels to cover the construction site.”

And that was just one example in recent years to bring art and beauty to the community in an unconventional way. The safety fence panels, which are now on view in the Herndon Gallery in at Antioch College, were taken down after the Yellow Springs Street fair last October.

Other decorated signs and fences dot the village, such as the work of Beth Holyoke and Kaethi Seidl, the dynamic duo of ceramic and tile, who teamed up to build the Yellow Springs sign sculpture.

“We did the Yellow Springs version of the Hollywood sign,” Seidl said. “Must of our ceramic work is done together.”

The sign was made of handmade commercial tiles on a wooden armature with a backer board. In sculpture, an armature is a framework around which the sculpture is built.

Seidl’s and Holyoke’s work, using this technique, can be seen at the Greene County Public Library, on the Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail and on a couch on the corner of Xenia Avenue and Corry Street.

The couch armature was yielded out of welded wire and rebar, which is also known as reinforcing steel. This past fall, the duo moved on to beautifying trash cans.

“We used the same recipe to ceramic the benches that we have now transitioned to trash cans,” Seidl explained. “We are doing nature themed cans. One is an ocean scene with an octopus and fish and also storks flying.”

Seidl and Holyoke are decorating trashcans, which are to be replaced on Xenia Avenue with ceramic and tile. The pilot project began three years ago.

“We were commissioned by the village to repurpose and upcycle trashcans taken out of circulation,” Holyoke said. These cans are perfectly surfaced for ceramic and tiling. They are not going to be thrown out and can’t be defiled once the concrete is filled in. The trash cans are located on Xenia Avenue, where there are three heavily decorated trash cans and two modestly decorated recycled cans. The cans can be found in front of the Winds Café, Dino’s Cappuccinos and the Little Art Theatre.

“We push towards integrating life with art rather than life opposing art,” Seidl said.

Over the past couple of years, the Women’s Park Flower Power project of 2012 was installed as public works of flower art on poles and railings to accomplish just that – integrating life with art. And there are other examples of that mission as well.

From 2008-2013, the Jafagirls, a mischievous cooperative, “yarn bombed” and “bird bombed” trees, fences and buildings – an example of which is the recycled knitting from knit knot tree made of felt and beads.

In 2011, the Traveling Gum Wall fundraising project, sponsored by the Yellow Springs Arts Council, involved people purchasing a piece of gum, chewing, then sticking it onto a collaborative mural.

An older example of public art in Yellow Springs, posted outside the Greene County Public Library, is the Book Tree of Knowledge. This work was completed by international sculptor Jon Hudson in 1992. He created a bronze sculpture cast of an original model of a stack of books in the shape of a palm tree.

The Virginia Hamilton meeting room inside the library, which is dedicated to award winning author and Yellow Springs native Virginia Hamilton, has added two pieces this year. Hamilton, 1936-2002, wrote about the African-American experience, and just after her death, husband and writer Arnold Adolphe asked that a memorial be set up in the library.

“Two sisters from Springfield – Toby Baker and Georgia Glass – spent two years beginning in 2012 hooking a rug of images – the story of her life and scenes around Yellow Springs and also characters from the stories that she wrote,” said Head Librarian Connie Collett. “The rug weavers also made a reader’s couch with hand-woven fabric. A portrait by Leo and Diane Dylan, illustrators from Hamilton’s books, hangs in the meeting room.”

Other decorative muses can also be found in murals on downtown buildings, like Ha-Ha Pizza.

“There is a legendary picture of jackalopes,” said Wintrow. “Ha-ha Pizza is one of the hot spots. There are some incredible pieces going south on [U.S.] Route 68 and one at the laundromat and the parking area.”

These are just a few of the dizzying examples of art imitating life and life imitating art in Yellow Springs, which is visible while shopping, dining or walking in all weather and seasons in Yellow Springs.

For more information about the public art on display in the village, sans gallery, please visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Tammy Newsom at Tammy

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