Welch School’s public art offers experience of history on Atlanta BeltLine
Legacy of centenarian photographer’s funding is “covered bridge” in Cabbagetown

Georgia State University rewarded Ernest G. Welch with a new perspective through his camera lens. Today, a professor and students who benefit from Welch’s funding legacy are inviting Atlantans to experience a new insight into a historic mill area near campus, through a touchable sculpture chosen for the Atlanta BeltLine.

Michael Wsol, an assistant sculpture professor in GSU’s Welch School of Art and Design, and graduate students from his three-dimensional art class are constructing a 30-foot covered bridge sculpture on old railroad tracks in Cabbagetown, to reflect the history of that neighborhood on the edge of the GSU campus.

A visitor to the BeltLine Bridge can walk through the nearly 8-foot opening, which looks like a tunnel for trains that brought workers and cotton to the textile factories in Cabbagetown.

But the tunnel becomes narrower, tapering to a 30-inch doorway at the other end patterned after the entry to a shotgun house, which remains the dominant type of architecture in Cabbagetown.

“The exit will take 15 steps, but it looks like it’s 40 steps,” said Wsol, who uses optical illusions as a tool in his work. “It’s about the passage of time, from past to present, from industrial to residential, from a big scale to a small scale. We believe it has the power to guide a number of conversations.”

The BeltLine Bridge, located between Memorial Avenue and Kirkwood Street until, was chosen as one of 74 temporary works of art and performance along the BeltLine, a proposed 22-mile loop of walking trails that circle Atlanta along former rail lines. So far, nine miles are paved.

“Public art is a fundamental component to the Atlanta BeltLine project,” said Brian Leary of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc, when the projects were announced. “We know that this will be the biggest and best exhibition yet.”

“In the previous two years, we have seen the positive impact this temporary art exhibition has on the selected artists and on the Atlanta residents who interact with art along the Atlanta BeltLine parks and trails,” said Camille Russell Love, director of City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs. The art and performances will continue through November.

The sculpture covers some tracks that were uncharacteristically left behind by the rail companies that owned the land. “This is what Atlanta formed from,” said Wsol, referring to the city’s development as a transportation hub. “This is a very important part of what formed Atlanta today.”

The Beltline Bridge responds to “whether we are making art specific to our city or for anywhere. That’s a big conversation in our world,” Wsol said. “In an era of global mass media, the unique character of a place is one that a lot of artists are exploring with site-specific art.”

“Public art supported by the Beltline highlights the creativity, passion and dedication to the idea that art can be a potent expression of time, place, and culture. The Welch School of Art and Design occupies a key role in the Atlanta arts community and is proud to be part of this distinctly urban initiative,” said Michael White, the director of the Welch School of Art and Design.

“Our benefactor, Ernest G. Welch, a lifelong learner who got his B.F.A. at age 93, understood the power of art as a visual extension of our diverse culture and city. His generous gift further enables our faculty and students to connect with the city.”

Welch died in late 2009 and left approximately $4 million to the school at GSU that now bears his name.

His bequest also supports the 2012 Welch Symposium on Death, which is highlighting an art exhibit, “Death is the Destination.” The works from 30 artists at the school’s gallery meditate on life’s big questions: Why are we here? What is the nature of existence? Why do we do the things we do? What is the meaning of life?

A public reception is scheduled at the Welch gallery for Sept. 6, and the exhibit continues through Sept. 21. The symposium will culminate with a conference in December at GSU.

—By Michelle Hiskey; Contact Kim Cretors, (404) 413-3424