GALLERY: Revival rising over new Victory Park

By Kate Hayden,

Last week, artist David Williamson had the sculpture “Revival” essentially assembled in his studio’s yard. Then it was time to disassemble and move the whole production two hours north to Charles City.

It has been a long but steady process since Williamson began working with Charles City residents in 2012. Williamson had built a reputation leading private creative workshops, and creating sculptures out of “river trash” through his partnership with Iowa’s Project AWARE. Now after five years of collaboration, design and craft, Williamson is nearing the end of a capstone recovery project for the city.

“This is not a piece of sculpture that was purchased and installed. This was a sculpture designed by the citizens and by kids here in town,” Williamson said. “This is public art by the public.”

At the end of installation and landscaping at Victory Park, Revival will stand between 22 to 23 feet tall — the largest public art piece in Charles City. The sculpture will also mark the spot of resident Phyllis Meyer’s former home, which was swept away in the 2008 floodwaters. Meyer and other residents donated residential land to the city following the flood, piecing together what is now Victory Park.

“This was a family’s home … This is a huge loss, not only the bridge but for her personally, in terms of her home,” Williamson said. “We’re honoring the bridge and the Meyers’ residence home here. There will be people who never ever saw the bridge, who will see a small casting at the top of the ‘Remembering’ [panel] that is the sideline view of the bridge.”

The piece will have special significance in regards to Williamson’s personal life and career as well, he said.

“It was pretty clear to me that this would be one of the culminating pieces in my career,” he said. “Taking on an object of this physicality is not something I’m going to do a lot in the future. I think it was time to do that sort of work, and opportunity knocked — and we’re doing it.”

Since the initial design period, Williamson has made small tweaks to the project to capture more of Charles City’s history. Williamson discovered Hart-Parr Tractor Company stationary from 1920, and designed three inch letters based on company letter head. He then used that font when creating the last stanza of the community poem featured on Revival: “Walking over, walking under, in this River Life, always looking up.”

“Hart-Parr did forge work and foundry work, metal-bending and metal-pouring. We are casting aluminum letters using the same casting, the same process that the Hart-Parr company would have used to make engine parts,” Williamson said. “We’re also doing forge work which is both forgings that we’ve done with metal-bending, and forging the river did with metal-bending.”

Hart-Parr also designed and constructed the original swinging bridge, he added.

“I think it took less than a month to install it, the original bridge,” Williamson said. “When disaster strikes and the bridge is in debris, tangled in a mess in the river and then hangs out for three years in an airport hanger — it’s going to take more than a month to untangle this.”

Revival will be officially dedicated on July 1 of this year at 1:30 p.m., the Charles City Chamber of Commerce has announced. Next year, 2018, will be the ten year anniversary of the devastating floods that destroyed the swinging bridge and surrounding homes.

“It’s the right time. I think we’ve allowed people to acclimate to this not being a residence, we’ve allowed people opportunity to think about how they would want to honor the old bridge,” Williamson said. “I’ve had many Charles City people come up and whisper some little story about the bridge in my ear, and I promised them I would reflect on that and incorporate some little aspect of their wishes into this bridge.”