While the Main Street reconstruction project resulted in a brand new roadway that paves the way for the city’s future, it also left behind poignant symbols of the city’s past in the form of 20 carefully crafted public art panels.
The 6-foot by 6-foot panels are built-in to the sounds walls so most motorists have surely noticed them by now. Much is lost, however, when seen passing by in a moving vehicle. Community Services Director Pam Nelson, who oversaw the selection, crafting, and installation of the panels along with other city staff and contractors, said everything about the artwork turned out fantastic, especially the depth, dimension, and detail you see up close.
“There are small touches in the panels that make them unique to The Colony,” she said. “You wouldn’t know it driving by but if you’re walking along the trail and study them, you’ll see lots of little details.”
Nelson, along with the late Keith Helms, former park development manager for the city, began the project nearly a decade ago by selecting an array of specific images that represented elements of life in the community. Many of the images in the panels you see today are derived from actual photographs of scenes taken in The Colony.
“Our intent all along was that the panels be windows looking into The Colony,” Nelson said. For example, the panel titled, “At Play in the Park” in the eastern sound wall between North Colony Boulevard and Nash Drive, depicts the real tree canopy and sidewalk from a photo of Bill Allen Park.“The original photo had a couple walking with their backs to the camera but we decided to go with something that had a little more activity to it,” Nelson said, referring to the children playing catch with a ball. “But the walkway, trees and the whole look is from an actual photograph of Bill Allen.”
Other panels have obvious connections. The panels in the western sound walls are heavy with lakeside scenes such as “Catching the Big One,” “The Wake,” “Taking Flight,” and “Sailing Away,” all of which depict common wildlife or recreation on the lake.
Some panels are in pairs and span places where the sound walls cross the side streets. “We wanted something that would carry across the intersections. Not just a boat or a fish, but what people do when they’re here – like catching fish and wakeboarding,” Nelson said.
Within the eastern sound walls are panels such as “The General,” which depicts Central Fire Station, the General fire truck, and a vintage The Colony Police car – again, all taken from actual photographs. There’s also panels depicting youth sports as a nod to all the activities that take place at the Five Star Complex as well as the city being named a “Sportstown USA” by Sports Illustrated magazine several years ago.
Where the walls cross over Hetherington on the east side, two panels titled, “Working the Rector Homestead,” tell a connected story of early life in the community. “We wanted something that showed what life was like here in the early years and what was at the core of our community,” added Nelson.
On the western side of road at the intersection with Ridgepointe is a two-panel spread titled, “Afternoon at the Shoreline Trail,” which includes an image of a family walking near the pedestrian bridge that spans a drainage way along the Shoreline Trail.
Most of the panels are along the western side of the street as determined by the fact there’s more sound walls along that side. Sound walls were only built where the roadway runs adjacent to residences.
The panels were sketched and crafted by well-known D-FW artist Janice Hart Melito.
“Janice was recommended by Jacobs Engineering, who we were working with to come up with ideas for the design of the entire Main Street corridor,” Nelson said. “Jacobs had worked with Janice on another project and we knew we wanted multi-dimensional relief panels. So, we interviewed her and looked at her portfolio. She was super excited and did some initial sketches pretty quickly. We liked the direction she was going and those sketches were used for the final plans.”
The crafting process involves creating a mold for each panel in clay then filling the mold with a kind of silicon. Once it hardens, the silicon mold is pulled out and used to pour the cast-stone (a concrete mix), which retains all the detail of the original sketch.
While the beauty and artistry of the finished panels speaks for itself, the Texas Department of Transportation, which managed the overall reconstruction project, had not done anything like this before, Nelson said.
“They’d done artwork before but much larger panels and usually just a single design, nothing detailed or dimensional like these,” Nelson said. “There were a lot of things about this that no one had ever done on a TxDOT wall before. We had a lot of challenges.”
Among the challenges was ensuring they would be lit well enough to stand out at night.
“The original specs for the lights were too high so they were not casting down on the panel properly,” Nelson said. “City staff members had to go out with the electrical contractor, at night, to perform a physical test with a fixture rigged on a small crane that we would move up and down to get the exact right cast of light shining down. We were very particular about how they turned out.”
Nelson said she sometimes meets residents wondering why the detail in the panels is not painted in color.
“We could do that but the way it is now blends into the corridor in a way that doesn’t detract. It’s not in your face,” she said. “But it’s there, you notice it. It turned out the way we wanted, for sure. It’s completely the way we envisioned.”