Arlington Arts Council has announced that the Steelies have been installed in the median of 67th Avenue, adjacent to the Centennial Trail.

Designed for this industrial setting, the latest art project by the AAC features six steel salmonids, powder coated in bright red and orange, with contrasting black inserts fabricated of found objects — bicycle sprockets and chain, drill bits, muffler parts and even an electric burner — provided by local businesses.

A team of four Arts Council member artists volunteered their time and diverse skills to create the six-foot fish, working in Mike Nordine's muffler shop.

Sarah Arney, president of the Arlington Arts Council, said this is one of several art projects this year.

“We are very fortunate to have creative members willing to donate their time,” Arney said. “Thanks to their efforts, we completed this project with a very modest budget for materials.” 

When the Arts Council wanted to extend its impact beyond historic downtown Arlington, Sarah Lopez suggested art for the medians that were being revitalized last summer. The city’s community improvement manager and a member of the AAC Board of Directors, Lopez felt that the median seemed like an ideal setting for fish art.

“The river rock and native plants created a nice setting for fish art,” Lopez said.  

Other ideas were bandied about, but salmon kept popping up, especially for Monica Bretherton, a board member who agreed to lead the public art project. She recruited fellow Arts Council member Erika Bruss, who shared an interest in using salvaged materials and in combining natural and industrial forms.

Since Bretherton had not actually welded since her art school days, AAC Board member Mike Nordine offered his help — and the use of his shop at the Arlington Muffler Shop. 

Nordine creates many creative critters with his welding skills and last year, he helped AAC members cut smaller salmon to mark the city’s salmon-bearing streams. 

He designed one of the large fish using parts from his shop shelves. 

Tim Johnson, an AAC member, gave his time to grind the parts, preparing them for assembly. A contractor who wanted to learn more about metal work, he was an essential volunteer, Bretherton said.

“The plasma cutting and welding was fast work compared with all the grinding required,” she said.

Also an AAC member, Gary Schlagel offered his professional fabrication expertise at various stages. 

“It was truly a team effort,” Bretherton said. “AAC members learned new skills and donated much time to keep the project moving forward through the summer.”

When the painted fish were assembled recently, Bruss was happy with the results.

“They came out even better than I expected,” Bruss said. “The coat of paint really pulls together all those parts and transforms them into something new again.”

For Bretherton, who has done other public art projects in her career, this was a big learning experience.

“Designing with the found objects was the fun part,” Bretherton said.

She put a lot of thought into the technical considerations so that the pieces would be both visually compelling and durable enough to survive the busy road with heavy truck traffic. 

“I’ve done public work before, but not permanent installations,” she said. “Now I have the confidence to go out and apply for other projects.”

Helping artists grow their skills and build connections is part of the Arts Council’s mission, Bretherton said. 

Smooth communication with the city’s Maintenance and Operations Department for the installation of the artworks and help from local vendors like Powder Fab contributes to the success of AAC projects like the Steelies, Bretherton added.

Projects completed by AAC in 2018 include Reg Akright’s Rip Rap sculpture, dedicated to George Boulton, as well as a second haiku stone for Terrace Park. Bruss also offered her creativity, engraving haiku poems from last year’s Eagle Festival on wood benches for Terrace Park and other locations.  

“We are pleased that the city's Public Works Department has agreed to purchase two art benches for the new Arlington Valley Road,” Arney said.

The city’s Public Art Committee selected two stone benches proposed by stone sculptor Verena Schwippert, an Arlington resident. 

“They will be installed in the spring,” Arney said.

With funds from the October Fall into Art Auction, AAC is considering more bench art for other locations around town, including Airport Boulevard and Smokey Point.

AAC meetings feature artist demonstrations on the second Tuesday of every month at the Arlington Boys and Girls Club – see the AAC website and Facebook page for details. Non-members are welcome.

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