By David Pendered
An Atlanta sculptor is the finalist to build an installation that’s to celebrate the heritage of Duluth’s Rogers Bridge, the engineering marvel of its day that’s to be replaced with a pedestrian bridge across the Chattahoochee River.
Phil Proctor was selected by Duluth’s Public Art Commission at its Feb. 16 meeting. The commission’s recommendation is slated for a vote on March 14 by the Duluth City Council.
The completed work is to be unveiled in Rogers Bridge Park in December, or in January 2022. The budget for the entire project is not to exceed $100,000, according to the request for proposals.
The concept involves using the remains of the original Rogers Bridge in a sculpture to be installed near the eastern edge of the pedestrian bridge.
Two artists were in the final round, Proctor and Michael Dillon. Dillon is a blacksmith whose studio in Crabapple has turned out public artwork displayed in cities including Nashville, Tenn., Charlotte, N.C., Duluth and Alpharetta, Ga., according to the studio website.
The arts commission selected Proctor. Minutes of the meeting do not record the debate. Proctor’s proposal was selected by unanimous vote.
Proctor has created a niche in large metal works that appear at numerous sites across metro Atlanta.
Projects cited on his Nucleus Sculpture Studio, LLC website include four pieces in Buckhead Plaza, a stainless steel and LED light installation at Emory University Hospital and, on the Atlanta BeltLine, the Solar Wind piece intended to represent “an orbit-like relationship between the sun and earth with gestures of chaos in delicate balance.”
Proctor is a formally trained sculptor. He earned a master of fine arts in sculpture, from East Carolina University. He earned a bachelor of fine arts in sculpture from the University of Southern Mississippi, according to the bio on his website.
At Rogers Bridge Park, the task is to create an installation using pieces of the original Rogers Bridge. The bridge was built at the turn of the last century and was removed in October 2021 to make way for the modern pedestrian bridge that is to cross the Chattahoochee River to connect parks in Duluth and Johns Creek — Cauley Creek Park, in Johns Creek, and Rogers Bridge Park, in Duluth.
The space where the sculpture is to be installed measures about 20 feet by 20 feet. The display does not have to fill the footprint, but the display must go in this space. The site for the installation is located between the traffic roundabout and the entrance path to the new bridge, according to the RFP.
“The goal of the project is to create an original artwork that will preserve the significance and history of the original bridge structure in a unique and interesting way and accompany a newly re-designed Rogers Bridge Park,” according to the RFP. “It should embody the river/nature theme and reflect the community vision as part of the Master Art Plan for the City of Duluth. It is NOT intended to be ‘playable’ or interactive art.”
Duluth officials took care during the removal of the existing bridge. Their goal was to preserve pieces that could be used in the art exhibit.
“The City has coordinated with the bridge demolition contractor regarding notable salvage pieces and desired sizes,” according to the RFP. “As such, every effort will be made to salvage a variety of beams and bracing in sizes ranging from 8’ to 20’ in length. The pieces selected by the chosen artist will be treated for lead prior to pick up. Although additional adornment is acceptable, it is expected that the majority of source materials used for the actual art will be derived from the original bridge.”
The original Rogers Bridge has a distinct place in history.
The metal truss bridge was built on a design that originated in the labs of the Pennsylvania Railroad. PRR was chartered in 1846 and was the world’s largest railroad corporation before a successor went bankrupt in 1970 and was folded into Conrail, which itself was split up. Conrail’s PRR assets were acquired by Norfolk Southern Railway.
The original Rogers Bridge was a Pennsylvania (Petit) truss design held together with metal pins. Spanning 228 feet, the bridge was the longest single-span bridge in the state and was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, according to a report by Trust for Public Land.