After five years of work, countless meetings, thousands of hours of design and construction, plus some delays caused by the pandemic, Petaluma artist David Best has unveiled his newest sculpture, River Arch.
The 25-foot steel sculpture was welcomed Saturday by more than 100 public art fans in a crowded ceremony on a small, wild patch of land where Petaluma’s Lynch Creek Trail meets Lakeville Highway.
A somewhat fanciful fusion of sweeping curves, sharp points, and swirling metallic curls, measuring slightly taller than a full-grown giraffe (or George Washington’s nose on Mount Rushmore) and softly covered in the reddish-brown color of the ‘deep rust, River Arch rises impressively from recently. buried cement foundations next to the Petaluma River. There, the structure will stand as a dramatic entrance to downtown Petaluma or the main section of the Lynch Creek Trail, depending on which direction pedestrians and cyclists are headed as they pass underneath.
River Arch is a commission of the Petaluma Public Art Committee, charged with spending money in the Petaluma Public Art Fund, raised through a city ordinance that requires developers to contribute 1% of the costs of the new developments in the city. The committee selected Best to create a piece of public art somewhere in Petaluma with a budget of $75,000.
Saturday’s event, which culminated with a ribbon cutting and happy people passing and returning under the arch, did not quite mark the completion of the project. Still awaiting the landscaping component, overseen by Sandra Reed of Petaluma, plus the installation of lights, details that are expected to be completed at an unspecified time in the future.
The ceremony was attended by members of the Public Art Committee, along with Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett, several of the metal workers from Van Bebber Brothers Steel Fabrication who worked on the creation of the arch, and Best, known worldwide for its massive temple structures, especially those erected and set on fire at past Burning Man events.
Melissa Abercrombie, Chair of the Public Art Committee, opened the event by telling the story of how River Arch came to be.
In June 2017, the Petaluma Public Art Committee commissioned Best to design an outdoor sculpture. A subcommittee was formed to explore possible sites that would meet the ordinance’s requirements to be publicly owned and publicly accessible. According to Abercrombie, more than a dozen sites were scouted, one by one, and the last one on the list was the best selected.
“You can see why David fell in love with this place,” Abercrombie said. “The space is very open and a little wild. It’s an industrial space with the river below and the sky above, and a lot of room to breathe for a piece of this scale.”
At the time of the River Arch commission, as recounted by Abercrombie, Best told the committee that he already had several major projects in the works, including the transformation of the reception hall at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the construction of a memorial. temple for the victims of the Parkland High School shooting in Florida. These projects would take more than a year to complete.
In a 2018 presentation to the Petaluma City Council, Best laid out his initial sketches for the River Arch, but approval of the project did not make it onto the City Council’s agenda until September 2018. Once the contract was signed, in January 2019, two community meetings were held at the site.
“Then the hard work began,” Abercrombie said, “to refine the design, work with an architect as a structural engineer, a landscaper, do soil studies, calculate the concrete for the foundation, get permits and align the steel needed to do that. the bow. Unfortunately, that all ended in March 2020. COVID hit and shut down the world.”
It wasn’t until the fall of 2021 that Best was able to return to work at River Arch, at which point the Van Bebber family generously offered space and support.
“At River Arch, David Best and his creative community have given us a transformative gift,” concluded Abercrombie. “Where recent years have forced us to stand apart and celebrate less, this piece invites you to pass with renewed optimism for the future.”
Before cutting the appropriately ornate yellow ribbon, emblazoned with the words “River Arch,” Best gave a few brief words, thanking the people of Petaluma and the Public Art Committee before offering a suggestion for what future projects might look like. public art in Petaluma. done.
“The unique thing about Petaluma is that there are a lot of artists here,” he said. “And Petaluma High School has the most incredible arts and metal arts. I would suggest to the Arts Council that if they’re going to give a scholarship to another artist, I’d tell them they have to have a student from the high school Petaluma to work with them as an apprentice.
“If you’re doing an art project in this city, I strongly recommend that some young artists in this community have the opportunity to participate and learn from it.”
Best was equally generous in his praise of the Van Bebber family.
“When I took on this piece, one of the requirements that I had within me was that it had to represent our community,” he said. “I didn’t want to no work with someone from our community. Well it turned out I ended up working with 35 people at Van Bebber, a company that is a huge part of Petaluma’s history. Yes, I physically built some of this piece, but it was the people of our community who made this arch.”
After indulgently enjoying a standing ovation, Best concluded, “It was a labor of love. This is about family. Van Bebber is family. Petaluma is family. It was an honor.”