If you’ve dreamed of being a displayed artist, Wish Locks Arkansas, a 2013 Sculpture Project work in progress, can make your wish come true.
If you never dreamed you had any artistic talent, maybe you’ll be surprised at what you can do. All it takes is a bit of your time; participation is free. Just pull up a chair under the blue awning at Sunday farmers’ markets or other Garden events.
The public participation artwork is the brain child of husband and wife team John Van Horn and Erika Droke. They’ve been thrilled with the response so far, with 30 locks painted the first day, Sunday, July 14.
“Our first Lock Party went even better than we had hoped! The plan for the first day was to raise awareness about the project and to complete a few locks, but we quickly made plans to bring a second table and more chairs for the next event,” Erika says.
“We were surprised how many people of all ages stopped to paint with us. The variety of designs people contributed is incredible; you can actually see that different people painted each one, just as you could if they’d each painted a canvas!”
John has worked as a steel artist since 2001 (and is a three-time sculpture project winner), and Erika is a writer with a B.S. in Environmental Science and works for the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.
“Science and nerdy, and I love it,” she says.
Though she’s assisted in the past through “suggestions to incorporate concepts from literature or folk tales, or to alter a design to better convey his purpose to viewers,” this is the couple’s first true collaboration. They got the idea from something they saw in Europe on their honeymoon after marrying in 2003.
At the time, Erika says, they didn’t realize what they were seeing when they’d notice locks on random structures, but last winter she read an art blog about Love Locks and saw pictures of bridges in France and China – and the light went off as she realized that’s what they’d seen years before. And an idea grew.
“Because Bernice Garden is the first place I think of anytime community art is mentioned, I asked John if he would build a work with me to bring the concept to Arkansas,” she says, adding that she was surprised when her research showed no one had such a project listed in the state.
John was a taker.
“As soon as we started talking about it, his eyes went sparkly like Santa’s, and I knew we were going to have fun with it. We tossed ideas at one another and settled on ‘Wish Locks’ for the Garden because everyone (young, old, in love or out) has a wish to make, and we both remembered public wishing wells from childhood with fondness,” Erika says.
“We believe the concept will engage and be inclusive of all visitors to the Garden and will help promote the space as a major Little Rock destination.”
John’s first two Bernice Garden projects were gate: “AgriGate” in 2010 and “Companions: The Three Sisters” in 2012. For “AgriGate,” he used farm implements and agricultural tools to create scenes on both sides that “represented the agricultural basis for the Twin Cities and celebrated the river for its contribution to the growth of the area.”
“The Three Sisters,” Erika explains, was inspired by a folk tale in which The Sisters represent a Native American agricultural practice of planting companion garden plots, “where plants work together to sustain one another – corn uses nitrogen, beans are grown up the stalks to replenish the nutrients in the soil, pumpkins/squash are grown to control weeds and protect the shallow roots of the beans.”
Whereas John is an old hand at such projects, Erika says she was initially “shocked and terrified” at being chosen.
“John was ecstatic to have another chance to create public art, as always, and told me to put my big girl pants on and smile.” Now Erika is as excited as her husband.
“We both value the Garden for its contributions to the neighborhood and were honored to have another chance to be involved in the sculpture display. To us, the most appealing aspect of this year’s sculpture is that no one artist or artist group owns it; it belongs to every person who attaches a lock, to every passerby of the neighborhood, which is exactly what the Garden space represents.”
For more information, you can like the Wish Locks Arkansas Facebook page – and watch this space. We’ll have more to come about this work in progress, as well as the artists’ tips for those interested in competing in a future sculpture project.