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Standing sentinel: Sculpture finds a home in downtown Salisbury

By Sarah Hall
shall@salisburypost.com
For six months, a sentinel stood silent guard near the boundary of what was the site of a Confederate prison a century and a half earlier. Sun glinted off the abstract steel sculpture by day, and spotlights illuminated the metallic protector of artistic expression at night.
Michael Baker’s “Sentinel 2” was a finishing touch on a project to beautify that small but important corner of Salisbury. The intersection borders the recently designated, brick-streeted “entertainment district.”
The area has a checkered past, but has been effectively cleaned up. Folks live and work in new condos overlooking the district. A children’s theater is taking shape on the opposite corner. Some of Salisbury’s finest restaurants open out onto East Fisher Street.
“Sentinel 2” was keeping watch over the changes. Then suddenly, the sculpture vanished. Spotlights shone on an empty pedestal, highlighting the absence.
Baker’s work had been on loan to the city, on a trial basis while awaiting purchase. But when no buyer stepped forward, Baker retrieved his creation.
Ed Norvell loved that sculpture, and greatly missed it when it was gone. During last fall’s OctoberTour, when the Bakers’ EastSquare ArtWorks living quarters was included on the tour, Norvell had the opportunity to ask Baker what was required to return “Sentinel 2” to the corner pedestal. He found out that it was available for a discount, since Baker had cut the $15,000 price tag by a third, to $10,000, in order to encourage its adoption.
Norvell thought about it, talked to his wife Susan, then purchased the piece.
But not for himself.
He bought it as a gift to the city of Salisbury.
Some have lauded Norvell for his generosity. Others have questioned, and even criticized, stating that in the current climate of economic distress, the money could have gone to something more practical and needed.
“Artists have to pay their bills and eat, too,” Norvell says. “They need support like everyone else.”
He also points out what sculptor Michael Baker and artist wife Connie, along with their EastSquare partners Whitney Peckman and Syed Ahmad, have done for Salisbury with their renovation of the old Flowers Bakery. They converted the building into combined gallery, studio, and living space, rescuing what could otherwise be just another empty downtown building.
Norvell says the EastSquare artists “need to be thanked for choosing Salisbury as their home.”
Another of Michael Baker’s stainless steel sculptures graces the entrance of Spartanburg, S.C.’s Hub City Art Park.
“Solitude” was the first piece erected as part of the project that transformed an overgrown, vacant, half-acre city lot into a place of beauty.
What makes this especially significant is the fact that the purchase of the sculpture and the beautification of the area was achieved without city funds or government grants. It was accomplished by a group of private, community-minded citizens.
Spartanburg has a reputation for being arts-minded. In fact, a new $35-million facility for the arts recently opened there, and all of that money came from private funds.
Spartanburg’s art park is the eighth project achieved by the “Group of 100,” which is comprised of 100 anonymous donors who contribute $1,000 a year to art and landscaping projects, taking eyesores and turning them into places of beauty.
These contributors are not given a say in how their money will be spent and in no place are their names noted. They even pay for their own dinner when they meet once a year to hear how their money was spent and what might be done in the future.
The donors participate out of love for their community. They trust others to decide the best way to make use of the funds.
The city has been helpful with providing land. Every project they do gets turned over to the city since the Group of 100 is not in the maintenance business.
But it’s a win-win situation.
Spartanburg gets great new spots, and the contributors feel good about what they’ve accomplished.
According to one of the group’s members, the feedback from the business community and newcomers has been great. According to her, the city manager says the Group of 100 initiative was one of the main reasons he left Beverly Hills to come to Spartanburg.
She also points out that they have evidence of the public’s approval in that there has never been any damage to their art installations or projects, although sometimes the college kids put detergent in fountains the group has had installed.
“But” she adds, “it just gets them really clean. And did you know that laundry softener cuts the suds like a charm?”
This benefactor also modestly pointed out that theirs isn’t the only community with a group like this. She referred specifically to Charlotte’s “Queen’s Table.”
Donors started the privately-funded Queen’s Table Fund in 1991. Their projects have included the sculptures at the square of Trade and Tryon, Hezekiah Alexander House, Charlotte Museum of History, and Queen Charlotte at the airport.
For information about the Salisbury Sculpture Show, visit www.salisburysculpture.com.

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