After five years of work, countless meetings, thousands of hours of design and construction — plus a few delays caused by the pandemic — Petaluma artist David Best has unveiled his newest sculpture, River Arch.
The 25-foot steel sculpture was welcomed Saturday by more than 100 fans of public art at a packed ceremony on a wild, small patch of land where Petaluma’s Lynch Creek Trail meets the Lakeville Expressway.
A somewhat fantastical fusion of sweeping curves, sharp points and swirling metal curls, slightly taller than a full-grown giraffe – or George Washington’s nose on Mount Rushmore – and gently covered in rust-red-brown deep, the River Arch rises impressively from the newly buried cement foundations by the Petaluma River. There the structure will stand as a dramatic entrance to downtown Petaluma or the main stretch of the Lynch Creek Trail, depending on which way pedestrians and cyclists are heading as they pass beneath it.
River Arch is a commission of the Petaluma Public Art Committee, charged with spending money in the Petaluma Public Art Fund – raised through a city ordinance that requires developers to contribute 1% of the costs of new downtown developments . The committee selected Best to create a piece of public art somewhere in Petaluma with a budget of $75,000.
Saturday’s event, which culminated in a ribbon-cutting and cheering crowd passing back and forth under the arch, by no means marks the end of the project. She’s still waiting on the landscaping component, overseen by Sandra Reed of Petaluma, plus the installation of lights, details that are set to be completed at some unspecified time in the future.
The ceremony was attended by members of the Public Art Committee, along with Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett, some of the metal workers from Van Bebber Brothers Steel Fabrication who worked on the arch and Best, known worldwide for his massive structures of of the temple, especially those erected and lit at past Burning Man events.
Melissa Abercrombie, chair of the Public Art Committee, opened the event by telling the story of how the River Arch came to be.
In June 2017, the Petaluma Public Art Committee commissioned Best to design an outdoor sculpture. A subcommittee was formed to explore potential sites that met the ordinance’s requirements to be publicly owned and publicly accessible. According to Abercrombie, over a dozen locations were explored, one by one, and the last one on the list was chosen as the best.
“You can see why David fell in love with this site,” Abercrombie said. “The space is open and a little wild. It’s an industrial space with the river below and the sky above – and a lot of breathing space for a piece of this scale.”
At the time of the River Arch commission, Abercrombie explained, Best told the committee that he had several major projects already in the works, including transforming the lobby at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and building a memorial. shrine to the victims of the Parkland High School shooting in Florida. These projects would take more than a year to complete.
In 2018, in a presentation to the Petaluma City Council, Best outlined his initial sketches for the River Arch, but approval of the project did not find its way onto the City Council agenda until September 2018. After the contract was signed, in January 2019, two community meetings were held on site.
“Then the hard work began,” Abercrombie said, “refining the design, working with an architect as a structural engineer, a landscape designer, doing soil studies, calculating the concrete for the footing, pulling permits and lining the steel needed to do. arc. Unfortunately, that was all coming to an end in March of 2020. COVID hit and shut down the world.”
It wasn’t until the fall of 2021 that Best was able to return to work at River Arch, at which point the Van Bebber family generously offered space and support.
“At River Arch, David Best and his creative community have given us a transformative gift,” concluded Abercrombie. “Where recent years have forced us to be apart and celebrate less, this piece invites you to move through it with renewed optimism for the future.”
Before cutting the appropriately ornate yellow ribbon emblazoned with the words “River Arch,” Best gave a few brief words, thanking the people of Petaluma and the Public Art Committee before making a suggestion for how are the next public art projects in Petaluma. done.
“The unique thing about Petaluma is that there are a lot of artists here,” he said. “And Petaluma High School has the most incredible arts and metal arts. I would like to suggest to the Arts Council that if they are going to give a grant to another artist, I would say that they should have a Petaluma High School student work with them as an intern.
“If you’re doing an art project in this city, I strongly recommend that some young artists from this community have the opportunity to participate and learn from it.”
Best was equally generous in his praise of the Van Bebber family.
“When I got this part, one of the requirements I had within myself was that it had to represent our community,” he said. “I didn’t want to work with someone in our community. Well, it turns out I ended up working with 35 people at Van Bebber, a company that is a huge part of Petaluma’s history. Yes, I physically built some of this part, but it was the people of our community who made this bow.”
After enjoying a standing ovation, Best concluded: “It was a labor of love. This is about family. Van Bebber is a family. Petaluma is a family. It was an honor.”