John Henry, an artist based in Chattanooga, TN, hopes to erect a sculpture along the waterfront in Westport. The spiky, 236-foot-tall piece would sit on a plaza in Patrick Turner’s $1.5 billion development project. “We want the sculpture to be the center of the project,” Turner recently told the Public Art Commission. “It does for Baltimore what the Arch does in St. Louis. It would become a symbol of the region.” We sat down recently with Henry at Turner’s Locust Point offices.
Q: Why create this particular piece in Baltimore?
A: It’s coming in the back door, in a way. I had been asked by the city of Lexington, KY, to consider doing a project for the 2010 World Equestrian Games, but there were problems getting it funded, we were running out of time, and then I had heart surgery at Hopkins. A friend, Mike Galiazzo [executive director of the Regional Manufacturing Institute], came to visit me after the surgery and asked me what I was working on. I told him about having some problems with the Lexington project, and he said, ‘Let’s bring it to Baltimore.’
Q: How did it end up in Westport?
A: Pat Turner jumped in and said, ‘I have the site,’ and it’s worked out beyond our wildest dreams. This is the kind of site—with the proximity to the water and visibility from the freeways—that works best for this type of thing. The location also gives this piece the opportunity to be part of something new, rather than fitting into something that was. This thing is going to be a major beacon for Westport.
Q: It will actually light up, won’t it?
A: The surface—unlike my other pieces, which are painted steel—will be perforated stainless. It will have tiny, tiny holes in it, and the piece will be lit from within. It will glow, and it can change colors. It can be purple when the Ravens win the Super Bowl. Because it can reflect what’s going on, it will interact with the city and the people who live here.
Q: How long will it take to construct?
A: I’m figuring 18 months, but my gut says it will go faster. Working with someone as enthusiastic and as driven as Pat Turner certainly helps. I’ve worked with people who commission a sculpture and want you to do it, but it’s almost like they spend the rest of the time getting in your way. This guy isn’t like that, and that’s incredibly unusual.