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Exploring Collin County’s Public Art
“Art for art’s sake is an empty phrase,” began French novelist and memoirist George Sand. “Art for the sake of truth, art for the sake of the good and the beautiful, that is the faith I am searching for,” she—yes she—concluded. Sand is credited with hundreds of inspirational quotes and several reflecting the world of art. A visual expressive form, art comes in many shapes, sizes and mediums—found throughout history and across the world—including right here in Collin County.
Unbeknownst and sometimes overlooked, art is abundant here. It calls for us to be aware of our surroundings, to take a personal involvement, to allow it to speak into our minds and let light into our human hearts.
Let’s start at Historic Downtown Plano. Cobbled 15th Street now holds a secondary title. “We got direction from [Plano City] Council a couple of years ago to turn the area into the arts district,” Michelle Hawkins, City of Plano’s Arts, Culture and Heritage Manager begins. “We applied for cultural district designation with the state and got awarded it this past year,” she cheerfully adds.
Hawkins quickly points out that standing works are the result of a decade-old public arts era. “We used to have a public arts committee and they had funds, a budget. When you see public art in Plano, it’s from around that time,” Hawkins adds.
The 2008 economic setback dismantled the arts committee; however, as of 2017, interest in the program has rekindled and there are rumblings of a new public arts master plan. Already underway is the Downtown Plano Mural Project which will see three murals by Joshua Weiner line 15th Street from U.S. Hwy. 75 and serve as an artistic welcome to the district. Look for the unveiling in April.
While interest in public arts takes hold, let’s tour through the county for some commendable pieces already at hand.
In Haggard Park, just beyond the iconic white gazebo, Jim Hickman’s kinetic Through the Park looms 20 feet skyward on an arched red rail and portrays a family of three spending a day in the sun. While you’re there visit the Interurban Railway Museum for a glimpse of the early Texas passenger rail and a revolving art display.
Head north to 1901 K Avenue and Fire Station No.1 for Jim Collins’ Everyone Goes Home. The power-coated aluminum and steel sculpture is an ode to firefighters and their “best friend,” the dalmatian. Historically, these brave, loyal dogs would stand guard over the firefighters’ equipment and their barking would function as a type of siren to warn of an approaching fire wagon.
Backtrack south into the cul-de-sac at 12th and I Street. Facing west beneath the DART railway track stands Shug Jones and Lynne Chinn’s wall mosaic Tracks of our Past and Future. This beautifully constructed 75-foot long collage features a portrait of Frederick Douglass and highlights the neighborhood’s ethnic diversity under the tagline “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Heading south into Richardson, CityLine boasts five public works of art by both local and national artists. The pieces include Over the Moon, a Texas Longhorn sitting atop the crescent moon by Gordon Huether, and Angela Mia De La Vega’s Whirlwind, two bronzed lifesize adolescent girls spinning freely, their hands interlocked. Also featured is a piece by the Timothy Berg and Rebekah Myers collaborative. One of a Kind is a fluorescent green aerodynamic rabbit that evokes the varied character of the multi-use project, acknowledging both the historic native prairie from which it sprang, and the sleek urban environment it has become.
Venturing into Wylie, the Wylie Municipal Complex could be considered a work of art in its own right. The multi-colored forms which shape the structure’s exterior are made of sectioned glass panels which absorb sunlight and reflect a spectrum of colors throughout the day. In front of the complex, seven granite monoliths designed by artist Steve Gillman are engraved with Beb Fulkerson’s historic writings on the city. On the backside, two stumpy silos, reminiscent of a bygone era stand over Herk van Tongren’s Teatron XIX. Peering back into Roman and Greek architecture, Tongren’s sculpture parallels ancient agoras; gathering centers for civic and educational discussions.
From Wylie, set the compass northwest into Allen. The city’s diverse collection of art draws from their master plan—financed partly through a $1.2 million bond approved by voters in 2007.
Blackland Prairie Song towers over Allen City Hall. The piece by Andrea Myklebust and Stanton Sears aims to capture the essence of the city. The Indiana limestone column depicts a bluebonnet flower and a cotton plant, a crop of the area many years ago, while imagery of Allen’s historical connection to the rail is depicted in laser-cut stainless steel. Added to that imagery is a cluster of rising stars, indicative of Allen’s promising future.
At the same complex, Brad Goldberg combined native landscape with concrete and limestone to create the water fountain Stratum. Nearby, at the city library visit Oceano, a Roger White Stoller abstract of bronze and Shanxi black granite. Stay and spend some time with the Randolph Rose bronze Maxey and Me, a life-size depiction of a boy and his dog.
Stop by The Village at Allen for a bite to eat and a view of musical subtleties. Rich Morgan’s Jazz Medley captures five upright monoliths with vibrant violet inlays designed to reflect the movement and pace of the musical form. Alternatively, go visit the wildlife at Watter’s Creek: Bull on the Green by Chris Powell; Pig at Market by Ken Bjorge;
Colts at Upper Pond by Kathie Cox; Chauncy Too, Abby & Carrot by Jim Budish and Ducks at Watters Creek by Douglas Clark. The area has great cafes and restaurants too.
Before leaving Allen, a stroll on the Cottonwood Trail will lead you to an unusual and unexpected art form: Current Drift is a bridge by San Antonio artists Bill Fitzgibbon and George Schroeder. Created using marine-grade aluminum, the work is both a bicyclist and pedestrian thoroughfare and a metallic representation of a flowing creek.
Depart Allen northward and exit Virginia Street into downtown McKinney. Designated as the city’s arts district, enter the courthouse on the square. A vintage marble James W. Throckmorton statue greets you at the northeast corner. Coming as a gift through the hands of artist Pompeo Coppini, this donation of the 106-year-old piece came from the Federation of Women’s Clubs.
The courthouse is now home to the McKinney Performing Arts Center. Inside, a variety of commissioned and donated pieces line the walls, among them is The Cotton Pickers by local artist Jake Dobscha. A 5×10-foot canvas painting, its presence illuminates the structure’s west entry. Splashed in a vibrant yellow sky, the work retells the story of McKinney one century ago. “It means to me an obvious determination,” Amy Rosenthal, director of the McKinney Performing Arts Center, says. “The color, the intensity, the texture of the cotton…the yellow shows there’s hope.”
Artist Jake Dobscha’s inspiration came from visiting the county’s history books. Originating from a collection of 100-year-old photographs, The Cotton Pickers is one in a series of paintings capturing rural life in Collin County’s once prevalent cotton fields. “It’s a luxury to be this close to the energy,” Jake said of the aura surrounding the downtown art scene. The area is a magnet for artists, with galleries and countless studios and workshops scattered throughout the historic neighborhood.
If you can tear yourself away from shopping in downtown, our art quest continues onto the residential neighborhood of Craig Ranch where a mounted brave stands over a paddling squaw in Snell Johnson’s War Canoe. Bronze, weather and age have encrusted patina over the fountain’s three characters. Jaunt west and you’ll find Lorenzo E. Ghiglieri’s Born to Run greeting visitors of McKinney’s SPCA.
Moving into Frisco, the 79-acre Harold Bacchus Community Park holds a number of athletic fields. Behind ballfield #9, in the floodplain of an unnamed branch of Rowlett Creek, 21 saucers looming overhead give us a doubletake of a 50’s sci-fi B movie. They’re Joshua Wiener’s Cloudscape.
Proceed west on Main Street and into downtown Frisco. The Frisco Flyer by Larry Kirkland stands proud at the north entrance to the Toyota Stadium. Inspired by Greek mythology, the winged foot is 27-feet high, weighs 12,000 pounds and is meant to represent global soccer and the speed of the players. To the south, David Allen Clark’s Frisco First is stationed at the Purefoy Municipal Complex, Frisco’s town hall. The life-sized bronzed farmer riding the lead engine #19 celebrates the arrival of rail to what was then a small farming community.
Take the Dallas Tollway south, exiting at Gaylord Parkway and satisfy an any-season penchant for baseball. At the Dr Pepper Stadium, Gail Fowler’s The Pitch captures the follow-through of the Roughriders’ man-on-the-mound.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Tollway lies the Texas Sculpture Garden at HALL Park, the largest private collection of contemporary Texas sculpture ever assembled for public view. The garden consists of 40 contemporary works by some of Texas’ most prominent artists. In addition, there are more than 150 pieces of art on display throughout the HALL Park development. With so much to see here you might want to dedicate an entire day to it.
Venturing south into Plano, exit at Parker Road. Head east and stop inside the Tom Muehlenbeck Recreation Center for a glimpse of Ray King’s Landscape of Light. Suspended overhead, hundreds of dichroic glass squares reflect incoming light and bounce a spectrum of colors around the entryway.
Continue east and turn north onto Custer. As you approach Spring Creek, visit Memorial Park at the intersection of Bay Hill Drive and stand in the presence of David Newton’s Sacrifice. Life-size bronze statues standing along a curved wall commemorate the fallen men and women of our armed conflicts. This mammoth memorial befittingly pays tribute to the sacrifice veterans have made for the liberties we enjoy.
A southward ramble along Custer and into the lot of Schimelpfenig Library unveils artist Teresa Camozzi’s Future Promises. Inspired by Texas poet laureate Alan Lee Birkelbach’s Bicentennial Oak, Julie Conway’s delicate glass-blown pieces float overhead and reflect the serendipity Birkelbach writes about.
For the final piece on your public art journey, continue south on Custer and west onto 15th Street. Cross Independence and turn left onto Gables Court. Perhaps Collin County’s most recent addition to the public art collection, Nic Noblique’s cherry-red We Don’t Carry Dead Weight Long stands at the entry to the offices of Plano Profile magazine. Erected in December 2016, this whirligig armature and turned metal sculpture adds a striking splash of color to the business cul-de-sac.
There you have it. Take the trip…tour through time and texture, prairie and patine, and discover a county filled with public art.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of public art in Collin County. In an area so rich in history, art and culture we can barely scratch the surface of all there is to see and admire within the confines of a print magazine. Nevertheless, we hope this entices you to explore, enjoy and be inspired by the art all around us.