This article by Joan C. Curtis was initially published on 03/06/13 in the Athens Banner-Herald.
Last month, the Classic Center celebrated the grand opening of its new addition, including the amazing Atrium which contains “Nest,” a sculptural art installation.
The Athens Cultural Affairs Commission, representatives of the public and the Athens-Clarke County Commission selected renowned artist Maureen Kelly from St. Louis to create “Nest.” Recently, I had an opportunity to talk with Kelly about how she conceived of that amazing structural work, as well as her interest in public art.
When asked to describe the piece, Kelly found it difficult to do so without incorporating the place. “I created the piece with the place and the community in mind. It took shape the instant I saw the space,” she said.
Having visited the site before she submitted a proposal, Kelly explained her need to feel the height and volume — essentially, the spirit — of the space. “I could never conceptualize a piece without seeing where it will live,” she said.
When she visited the Atrium, Kelly instantly recognized the need to incorporate a sense of history. The Classic Center sits on the site of the Historic Warehouse District, where storehouses for cotton and wool were located during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
“When I learned that this used to be an important corridor for the textile industry, stainless steel fabric immediately came to mind,” Kelly said. “It is unique in that it mirrors many of the same qualities as cotton. Furthermore, the stainless steel fabric is completely see-through.” This unique material enabled her to create a piece with historical significance that would enhance rather than overpower the panoramic beauty of the landscape outside.
Asked how anyone could conceptualize such a mammoth piece, Kelly said that when she walks into any space, her mind almost instantaneously sees something.
“ I’ve gone full circle with site-specific,” she explained. “I began in ceramics. Once out of school, I changed from small architectural-based sculptural clay to site-specific sculpture of metals and fabrics that are integrated into the architectural intent of these extreme spaces.”
She has since evolved further into the realm of space, using all kinds of fabric and design. Her studio, The Design Loft, is a known leader for site-specific fabric and metal structure for extreme and unusual spaces. Her website shows many installations, each more majestic than the next.
As far as how to view “Nest,” she said, “I want people to see whatever they see, whatever they want to see. I named it “Nest” because when I gazed upon it, I felt the warmth of a gathering place and the embrace of the outside trees, but everyone will see something different.”
She told me that Paul Cramer, executive director of the Classic Center, saw a symphony when he stood under “Nest.” He interpreted the poles as the conductor’s baton and the free-flowing fabric as the movement of the baton.
Kelly herself experienced a different view of the piece when she gazed at it from the second floor.
“From that viewpoint I was stunned to notice how the fabric incorporated itself into the outside sky — almost like clouds,” she said.
Kelly encourages people to enjoy “Nest” from various vantage points — in the morning with the sunlight, at night with the special lighting, from the outside front windows, from the second floor. Each of these views will whisper a different message to the viewer.
“Find something you enjoy,” she suggested, “and let yourself go with the piece.”
Kelly captured the creative spirit of our community when the spark of insight touched her that first day in the Atrium. We were fortunate to find someone of her passion and skill to bring this spark of creativity to life.
For more information, check out Kelly’s website, http://www.thedesignloft.com. For more information about new calls for public art in our community, check out the Athens Cultural Affairs website, https://www.athensculturalaffairs.org