A stainless steel sculpture would bring abstract wheels to the grounds of a historic train depot. "It ties the past to the future," artist Shellie Bender said.
Some see a tasteful, evocative and intellectual interpretation of river and rail.
To others, it's a giant earring. Or an oversized Christmas ornament.
Whatever the interpretation, artist Shellie Bender's "Mobility" sculpture -- inspired by train wheels in motion -- is the winner of a $30,000 contest to design, create and install a work of public art outside the Union Pacific Depot.
The contest that drew 42 entries from 14 states officially closes Tuesday, when Lawrence city commissioners are expected to approve Bender's selection for the taxpayer-financed work.
In an interview Friday, Bender said she and her team of experts could have the stainless steel rings and fountain in place outside the depot within six months.
"I'm very excited," said Bender, who creates freestanding, wall-mounted and wearable sculptures at her home on Ohio Street. "It's a wonderful opportunity for me and my work. It's really the most wonderful opportunity I've had."
The Lawrence Arts Commission, with help from an advisory committee, recommended "Mobility" to the city commission after reviewing proposals of five finalists, all from local artists.
Comments, not votes
The arts commission received 312 written comments about the proposals, which had been on public display at the depot earlier this month.
City Manager Mike Wildgen said the public was invited to participate in the process for several reasons. The biggest: public money for public art on public property.
But that doesn't mean the decisions should be open to a public vote, he said.
"Art's not very black and white. It's very subjective," he said. "You don't vote on that sort of thing."
Many respondents to the city's questionnaires did, however, indicate clear preferences.
A review of the forms by the Journal-World found that of those with a clear preference, 143 favored "Earliest Settlers: Fish of the Kaw," a bronze portrayal of seven river fish by Myles Schachter, Mary Weisert and Elden Tefft. Another 46 sided with "Blue Heron Monolith," by Laura Ramberg.
Forty-four chose "Mobility," and Bender said she was pleased with the comments -- both pro and con.
"Some people will love it, some people will hate it -- what you hope is that you don't have indifference," Bender said. "That is what public art is all about. I want people to respond to it."
Commissioners will consider approving Bender's selection Tuesday, during their 6:35 p.m. meeting at city hall, Sixth and Massachusetts.
If approved, Bender would use a team of experts to complete the sculpture: A. Zahner Co., of Kansas City, Mo., for metals fabrication; Dennis McNish, of Free Enterprise Construction Inc., Lawrence, for pond construction; Deb Spencer, of Water's Edge, Lawrence, for pumps and the fountain; Wade Delfelder, of Superior Electric, Lawrence, lighting and electrical work; Scott Robert, of Art's Plumbing, for plumbing; Kaylin Munro, for architectural consulting; and Kent Van Hoesen, Bender's husband, for construction consulting.
The sculpture itself -- sections of six concentric stainless steel rings -- would be 6 feet tall, and mounted inside a pond whose water would cascade into an exterior ring lined by river stone.
The work would be installed within the city's planned garden project outside the depot. Tuesday night, commissioners are expected to hire Penny Construction Inc., for $282,482, to do the landscaping this spring, plus build a new parking lot across Locust Street.