CHATHAM – Selectmen have given the Women's Club of Chatham the go-ahead to install a “Tree of Life” sculpture on an exterior wall at the Eldredge Public Library.
The sculpture is a gift to the town from the organization in honor of its 100th anniversary.
“The tree of life seemed to be an appropriate sculpture to go in that area,” Ann Hosmer, chair of the club's centennial gift committee, said at last week's board of selectmen's meeting. The wall chosen for the sculpture is along Library Lane to the left of the building's entrance. A another sculpture of a young boy sits on a wall opposite the entrance, and there are several memorial benches in the vicinity. From the street, it will appear as if the sculpture of the boy, or anyone on the bench against the wall, is sitting beneath the tree, said sculptor Faye Anderson.
Hosmer said the Club set aside a “substantial sum of money to create a lasting gift” to mark its centennial in 2015. Four criteria were developed for the gift: it should be permanent, require little or no maintenance, be appropriate for the town, and in some way honor or celebrate women. The idea of a Tree of Life sculpture, which symbolizes the earth and creation, was “enthusiastically accepted by the board and membership, she said.
Club officials met with the trustees of the Eldredge Public Library and town officials. There were some initial concerns regarding the sculpture's size and weight. Many of the questions were addressed after Anderson, a Chatham native whose metal sculptures adorn many local homes and businesses, was hired. Last month members of the historic business district commission gave their informal approval to the sculpture.
“I think the library is a wonderful place for this kind of community statement, and the women's club has been part of this town for a long time,” said Selectman Seth Taylor, adding that “a couple” of his grandmothers had served as officers in the club. However, he was concerned with the maintenance of the sculpture and wanted assurance that it would not “turn into a rusty mess” or damage the bricks when it is anchored to the wall.
Anderson said the steel sculpture won't touch the bricks, but will be held in place by stainless steel and plastic sleeves bolted to the wall in about four spots, depending on the final weight. The sculpture itself will be forged with an oxidized finish that won't rust.
“None of the sculpture will actually be touching the brick,” she said, and where the metal touches brick would be the only place where rust marks could possibility be seen. By mounting it so that it is held slightly away from the wall, that won't happen. “I've been doing this for years and I'm familiar with how it works,” she added.
Taylor said he was still concerned about rust, but Anderson said other materials such as bronze and copper were too expensive. Over time, the oxidized finish will look similar to the building's copper drainpipes, she said.
Solid steel bars will be used to form the body of the sculpture, hand forged and twisted into shape. The ends of the branches will be bent back so that there will be no sharp points.
While he admired the sculpture design, Selectman Dean Nicastro said a few emails from residents questioning its location gave him pause.
“I'm not sure if it's a good idea or not,” he said. While the library itself is “an architectural masterpiece,” the wall where the sculpture is planned is part of an addition built in the 1990s. His concern, he said, is “precedent. Who else is going to want to place plaques or anything else on the library.”
“As fine a piece of art as it is, [I'm not sure] it doesn't take away from the building as opposed to adding something to it,” Nicastro said. He doesn't want the library's walls looking like “the outfield in Yankee Stadium.”
Anderson said the sculpture complements the open space around the Library Lane entrance. “I think it would do nothing but lend more uniqueness to it,” she said. Change can be difficult for some, especially if it involves an iconic location. “I'm sure there are people who didn't like the sculpture at the fish pier, but it works,” she said.
Joe Gagliano, president of the library's board of trustees, said the group debated the sculpture proposal “a great deal, because we felt we perhaps might be opening the door to other things.” There are criteria for acceptance of such gifts, he said, and the trustees have turned down some that do not meet them. The “special place” women's club has in the history of the town was a major factor in acceptance of their proposal.
“We went back and forth on this whole thing quite a bit,” Gagliano said. “We did get unanimous approval for it after quite a bit of discussion and adjustment by the women's club.”
Selectmen, too, unanimously approved placement of the structure on the library wall. The board also agreed to waive fees for town permits for the project.
Hosmer said the club's goal is to have the sculpture in place by late spring.