• Alex Burkart

The Story Behind the Sculptures at America's Central Port

America’s Central Port has four art installations along Illinois Route 3, all located within Granite City and Madison, marking the boundaries of the Port property. The four sculptures include the Wake of the Flood, the Wayfinder, the Oculus, and the latest addition Intermodal Powerhouse No.1. Together they are visible to over 18,000 motorists daily who transit Illinois Route 3 from the McKinley Bridge to I-270.

Wake of the Flood,

by Scott Ross (Lucas Coffin assisted in the assembly and co-fabrication of the piece)


Inspiration for the Piece: America’s Central Port, located along the Chain of Rocks Canal, is protected by a 500-year U.S. Army Corps of Engineers levee. Prior to the levee, the region would flood when the Mississippi River would rise. The artist's inspiration for this particular piece, which can be found at the corner of Bissell & Rt 3, was to create something that made reference to what’s left behind after a flood. When the water recedes, the high water mark leaves behind this jumble of linear elements (typically trees) on the bank of the river. This site specific piece signifies the resilience of America’s Central Port and the permanent mark it has made in helping advance the economic development of the region. It is a narrow and horizontally positioned piece by design, meant to complement the vertical nature of the surrounding space, including the various tall buildings and structures, trees, phone poles, and other infrastructure elements. As for the name of the piece, Scott Ross has been known to incorporate Grateful Dead references into his work, and for this piece he felt Wake of the Flood, the 6th studio album from 1973 was a perfect fit. The wake is what’s left over; it’s the after. America’s Central Port is the after, it’s the mark that reminds the region of how far we’ve come and inspires us to keep moving forward.

Scott Ross Bio: Scott Ross was born and raised in Union Lake, MI and earned BA (1997) degrees in Ceramics and Creative Writing from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL. He then earned his MFA (2012) in Sculpture from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE). Since 1997, he has been building and firing wood-kilns at his home studio in Union Lake, MI. During the last ten years he has participated in 46 exhibitions (13 solo and 33 two person/group with 3 international), including exhibitions at the Museo del Vino, Laumeier Sculpture Park and The Tarble Arts Center. These exhibitions are representative of his continued interest in sculpture, installation and ceramics as vehicles for self-expression.

Wayfinder,

by Noah Kirby

Inspiration for the Piece:

The Wayfinder sculpture, which can be found at the corner of W 20th Street and IL Rt 3, was designed to address three areas of interest to the Port. To use steel as a primary material, signify the relationship between the Port and the local community, and to capture the significance of the Mississippi River. The boundaries of America’s Central Port property spans the communities of Madison, Venice, and Granite City. This steel sculpture is composed of three individual elements that are interrelated with one another. Each element in the sculpture is its own structure, self-supporting, and individual. When the composition of these three elements come together it creates a whole that interacts and interrelates with one another in a way that is visually dynamic. In both a literal and figurative way, the sculpture speaks to the Port as a place where parts of the community come together as a whole. The choice to paint the piece red is in reference to a theme found in river navigation. All along the Mississippi River lie red and green buoys that mark the navigable channel, directing north and southbound barge traffic. “Red right returning” is a phrase used to help remember how the system of navigational aids work in way-finding. When traveling upstream, or in the Port’s case towards home, you keep the red markers on your right. In a subtle way this choice to paint the sculpture red alludes to the idea of the river as a way home as well as being a symbol of finding direction, hence the title “Wayfinder.”

Oculus,

by Noah Kirby (Contributing artists: Alison Ouellette-Kirby, Elizabeth Kronfield, Matt Wicker)

Inspiration for the Piece:

This piece, which can be found along IL Rt 3 and the Confluence Bike Trail between Rock Road and W 20th Street, is part of the Six Mile Sculptureworks series and was designed to highlight the significance and creativity within the manufacturing process of steel, which is prevalent throughout the region. The challenge behind this piece was activating the landscape adjacent to IL Route 3, incorporating the river and road, all while maintaining a commitment to steel as the key material. The overall design incorporates multiple references to the surrounding landscape and river elements. The form makes reference to riverboat paddle wheels, locally manufactured steel coils, the wheels and tires of the trucks that move along IL Route 3, as well as being a sort of wild flower within the landscape. The title “Oculus” came about in reference to the idea that these things are critically significant parts of the Ports activity. They are a sort of lens through which to see the region and to bring into focus the Port’s role as a valued participant.

Intermodal Powerhouse No.1,

by Noah Kirby

Inspiration for the Piece:

The focal point of design for this piece are the two 20’ tall smoke stacks that were salvaged from the boilers of the former Granite City Army Depot power plant on property at the Port. The theme of this piece revolves around the nature of the Port as an economic engine and powerhouse of sorts. The stacks were the focal point of the design, along with the use of a grain silo and structures that make reference to shipping containers and the curved tops as seen on various Mississippi River barges. Beyond the two salvaged smoke stacks, at the center of the composition is a partial grain silo connected with a shipping container/barge lid. It is intended to look like a purpose-built functional structure, though not so specific as to be dismissed as “just another Port building”. The color scheme was chosen to align with the green and blue accents of the America’s Central Port logo, where the color blue represents the river, green represents the road, and grey represents access to six Class-1 railroads. The camouflage-like design is both a tribute to the history of the Port as the former U.S. Army Melvin Price Logistics Depot, as well as the nature of the Port as a crucial component in the region’s economic engine, camouflaged in plain sight.

Noah Kirby Bio:

Noah Kirby produces both public and private commission work and is currently Artist-in-Residence for America’s Central Port in Granite City, IL. In addition to his time spent as a sculptor, he is a Senior Lecturer in Sculpture for the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art at Washington University, where he teaches courses on sculpture, public sculpture art practice, 3D design foundations, blacksmithing, foundry, and metal fabrication. His art practice utilizes conventions of both industrial manufacturing process and hand craft traditions to build objects that offer subjective experience within shared spaces. Deeply invested in manufacturing processes, he founded and is the Co-Director of the Six Mile SculptureWorks program of Alfresco Productions in Granite City, Illinois, whose mission is to rebrand the town as a place where Art and Industry Meet. He has served on the International Conference on Contemporary Cast Iron Art, and is a standing member of the Western Cast Iron Art Alliance. In addition, he has served on the Board of Directors for Saint Louis Artworks, and is a Board Member of Sculpture Works Ferguson. His work has been displayed across the nation in outdoor and gallery exhibitions, as well as internationally in Canada, China, Great Britain, and France.


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Since its inception, the Port has continued to strive for excellence in achieving its mission to enhance transportation and  promote job growth within the region.  

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