Art installation coming to Lewes Canalfront Park

Sculpture is topic at historical society meeting Jan. 25
January 24, 2020

Lewes Canalfront Park will offer an original art display this summer, a piece by Brooklyn artist Tom Fruin that resembles rooftop water towers found in many cities.

Fruin’s water tower is made of colorful scavenged and reclaimed plexiglass. Lewes has a similar water tower at its old water plant on Schley Avenue. 

Cliff Diver, chair of the city’s public art committee, says the goal is to have the piece installed by early June. Mayor and city council voted 3-2 Jan. 13 to approve a temporary installation in the park.

“Everyone will see this through their own set of elements,” Diver said. “[Canalfront Park] is where the city comes together. People will share their own points of view. If they do, that builds community and society.”

The committee chose the piece and location with the help of Karin Bravin, a public art consultant from New York City.

“Rather than work with our limited experiences, we opened ourselves to share Karin’s experience that’s been part of the global impact of art,” Diver said. “It’s a big deal.”

The water tower was the committee’s top choice. Diver said it is a nod to Lewes’ industrial past, resembles the lens atop the mast of the nearby Lightship Overfalls, and the use of recycled materials reminds people of the ongoing effort to reduce and recycle plastic.

The piece will be placed near the Lightship Overfalls. However, compared to the 160-foot boat, Diver said, the water tower will stand only 10 feet square and about 23 feet tall. It will be anchored into the ground and surrounded by a barrier to prevent people from climbing on it.

Diver is confident the water tower will attract people to Lewes. Locally, he said he hopes it will be well received, and will build an appreciation for public art that could develop Lewes into an arts destination, he said.

“We’re going to do a lot of work in the fall to collect as much feedback as we can,” he said. “If the community does respond, we’ll come back with something else.”

Barry Dunkin, a member of the city’s public art committee, said the artist will be on site constructing the water tower, which will be a fun experience for onlookers.

“It’s not like you put it on a flatbed and truck it down here,” he said. “The artist will be here building it, and the community will be able to watch it being built.”

Diver said he’s ironing out final details, and in the meantime, he will be raising the $12,000 needed to pay for the project. Mayor and city council agreed to let the project move forward, but advised the committee that the $6,400 left in the committee’s budget should only be used if needed.

Councilwoman Bonnie Osler and Councilman Dennis Reardon voted against the project, noting the committee’s approved funds are not appropriate for the project, even if they’re used as a last resort. Osler said the budgeted money was only to be used for educational purposes.

“We’ve been pretty consistent on this council about not using taxpayer funds for all kinds of great ideas that have come forward,” she said. “There’s no question they would’ve enriched all of us, but the question is whether or not it’s an appropriate use of taxpayer funds.”

She said her concern is that it sets a precedent.

Diver said a temporary installation is about education.

“We’re not going to own this piece of art,” he said. “And it’s not any different to me than supporting a concert, which comes and goes, or the fireworks, which spends a lot of money for a 20-minute show. This is a show that lasts all summer. To me, it’s the experience of meeting the art. You leave with that and carry it with you.”

Diver said he expects to receive a small grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, which supports the project.

“The Division of the Arts recognizes the power of public art to stimulate economic growth, enliven and transform a landscape, enhance the visual appeal and public perception of a community, and elevate an experience,” said Kristin Pleasanton, deputy director of Delaware Division of the Arts. “To bring in art from an internationally recognized artist such as Tom Fruin is remarkable, and an exceptional city like Lewes is the perfect locale for exceptional art.”

The rest of the funds will be raised through private donations. Contact the committee through its website Checks made out to City of Lewes Public Art Fund may also be dropped off at city hall.

Diver will discuss the work of the public art committee, including this project, at the Lewes Historical Society’s annual meeting at 11 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 25, at the Lewes History Museum.