Art in the Heritage District – Stop 2: Benches
By Elaine Kessler
Seattle has pigs, Norfolk has mermaids, neighboring Chandler has ostriches, and Gilbert has begun their collection of artfully decorated illuminated benches.
Why have a symbol for a community? Cathy Coleman, president of the Downtown Norfolk Council in 2009 said of the mermaids: They “provide awareness about the city, not just for residents but for tourists and others. …as a symbol for the city it’s enduring.”
But not only do these symbols provide awareness and pride, in the case of the Seattle pigs, they also raise money. The Seattle market’s unofficial mascot, a massive piggy bank, raises an average of $10,000 per year to support the community.
A couple of the masterminds behind the Gilbert benches were Jean Smith and Diane Fales who sat on the now defunct Art and Tourism Board for the town. After much brainstorming, they landed on comfortable chairs as an appropriate symbol of the town as it had been recently described as one of the most comfortable communities in the country. After several months of struggling to get sponsors to produce and place the benches, the idea was abandoned but a prototype of the chair/bench remained. The idea was reinvigorated a few years later and an RFQ for artists was distributed by the town to decorate the bench. The winning proposal in 2016 was by Dr. Simone Avery Woodard who says this about the project on her website:
I painted the bench in the Gilbert Historical Museum and it is now permanently displayed outside in downtown Gilbert, Arizona (Gilbert Road and Gilbert Trail Crossing). The medium is fiberglass (gelcoat) paint with dichroic glass accents. For the subject matter, I created whimsical images from some of my past illustrations: stylized critters of the Southwest, such as coyotes and reptiles.
While the Art and Tourism board no longer exists, the Town of Gilbert has pursued the creation of 3 more benches. There’s one bench near Culinary Dropout with cactus called “Surrounded by Life” by artist Ghazal Ghazi.
There’s another bench near Whiskey Row with a canyon and sparkling water called “Luminous Jewels of Arizona” made by artists and Gilbert Public School teachers:
- Jenni Feidler-Aguilar
- Heather Bogus
- M. Elizabeth Sharma
FInd the video of its process here: https://youtu.be/c6wNaR5NNl8
here’s one bench near Oreganos with the water tower on the back and cosmos on the front called “Galaxy over Gilbert” by artist Rebecca Cameron of Bexx Fine Art. Here’s a video of the bench painting process: https://youtu.be/vaHpQL8AvCM
The benches are an incredible contribution to the community providing function and beauty and truly something of which to be proud. I do hope Gilbert will produce more.
Elliott, Amanda. “Question.” Message to Elaine Kessler. 1 May 2020. E-mail.
Fales, Diane. Phone conversation. 19 May 2020.
Kessler, Elaine. “Gilbert Benches.” Elaine Kessler Photography. 2020. www.elainekesslerphotography.com
Laycock, Jake. “The Origins of Pike Place Market’s Famous Pig.” SeattleMag.com.
Newsome, Cherise. “Mermaids have celebrated Norfolk life for 10 years.” Virginian-PIlot.
Smith, Jean. “Downtown Gilbert’s Benches.” Message to Elaine Kessler. 15 May 2020. E-mail.
Smith, Lynne King. Phone conversation. 18 May 2020.
Woodard, Simone. “About Dr. Simone Avery Woodard, EDD.” Art by Simone, http://artbysimone.com.