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Sculptures to Enhance Downtown Conway

Public art for cities Public art for cities

Cast bronze sculptures that feature two things Conway is known for — education and toads — will be placed throughout downtown. Kim Williams, executive director of the Conway Downtown Partnership, said it was Mayor Tab Townsell’s idea to order the 10 statues.

“They have a connection in one way or another to education or Toad Suck,” Williams said. Townsell said the statues, with a total cost of $33,000, were paid for with Advertising and Promotion funds.

Public art for citiesThe statues were ordered from The Randolph Rose Collection in New York.

The sculptures, most under 3 feet tall, feature children, many of them reading books; and toads, including a toad reading a book to smaller amphibians.

“The theme of children and books kind of fits with Conway,” Townsell said. “I really like her,” he said, tapping the head of a statue of a little girl sitting on the ground, reading.

The statues are being stored in a City Hall conference room. Townsell said the pieces will be bolted to concrete wherever they are placed. He said Conway aldermen picked the pieces from the company’s catalog.

“The general rule of thumb is, if you want something, you go to somebody who’s already doing that, who basically has a body of work in that field,” he said. “We wanted kids — that’s what this particular artist focuses on.”

Although the sculptures are not mass-produced, they are not one of a kind, which keeps the price down, he said. The Conway Public Art Committee, which includes Williams, is advising the city on where to place the sculptures, Townsell said.

“We’re still debating a little bit as far as where we’re going to put them,” Williams said. “Some of them will have to have some mounting done so they don’t get stolen or knocked over, so they don’t get run over. “There’s no estimated time for putting them out,” she said.

Townsell said cardboard cutouts of the sculptures will be placed at proposed locations to see how they look and whether the scale is right. He said that was a suggestion from Gayle Seymour, associate dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication at the University of Central Arkansas. She’s also a member of the public-art committee.

A sculpture called The Frog Prince, “but we call it The Toad Prince,” Townsell said, likely will go in Rogers Plaza, which is under construction at Oak and Van Ronkle streets at the east entrance to downtown. It’s the sculpture of a toad reading to smaller toads.

“The new plaza area, because it’s kind of unique and kind of different and says welcome to Toad Suck —basically, we thought that would be kind of neat with the arch,” Williams said. Townsell said a little boy with a pail and a toad will be placed near a fountain, possibly in Simon Park.

Another sculpture, a little girl holding a teddy bear, will be placed in the park where she is “looking up” at Conway’s first public-art mural, which is painted on the side of City Hall. One of the bronzes is called Best Friends, a girl and a boy sitting on a bench, and he has an open book.

Williams said it is being considered for the sidewalk near First Security Bank on Front Street “to kind of give a nod to one of our first buildings that is on the National Register [of Historic Places]. “At night, it’s lit and it’s protected because of the way the building is,” Williams said, and it’s a visible location. Townsell and Williams both pointed out that the children depicted in the sculptures wear old-fashioned clothing.

The mayor said Seymour mentioned that the artwork is reminiscent of the 19th-century American artist Winslow Homer, “so they fit in the downtown era.” One of the larger pieces, a long bench with a boy seated at one end reading a book and a dog sitting with him, will probably go in Laurel Park, Townsell said. He said the dark bronze gets hot in the sun.

“It’s such an inviting statue for kids to come sit on, and people, you could scald somebody,” he said.Townsell said the work could be placed under shade trees at Laurel Park off Robinson Avenue. “That is our most-used park in the city,” he said. In the winter, the hardwood trees will be bare, and the sun could warm the bench, Townsell added.

The only piece that won’t be downtown is a statue of a little girl throwing a softball that will be at Conway’s girls softball complex, City of Colleges Park. Townsell said the pieces will add to the attractiveness of downtown, and he hopes to order more in the future He said if a city is graded, like in school, a grade of ‘D’ is doing “the minimum,” which would be offering police and fire protection. “Everybody does police and fire,” he said. To get a “C,” he said sanitation services are added; a “B” is having parks. “What’s it take to do ‘A’ work? Do all the rest of the stuff, and to do an ‘A,’ it’s going to include public art, … flowers. People say, ‘I like this; it feels good to be here.’”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.