For Stan Edmister, bridges are a canvas. Where an engineer sees a mass of concrete and steel, he sees a potential masterpiece.
“If paint is going to be put on a bridge to sustain its life, why should it be brown or gray or pastel green, when it could be a lively combination of colors?” the 51-year-old artist asks.
Two years ago, Edmister won a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to design a color scheme for the Guilford Avenue bridge in Baltimore. The result was so pleasing, one NEA official said, that Edmister was awarded a second $10,000 grant to select colors for 15 other bridges that cross Interstate 83.
As the bridges are rehabilitated, they will be painted according to Edmister’s design.
Jeff Soule, special project manager at the NEA in Washington, said the award committee hopes that Edmister’s work will spur other cities to treat their public works as art.
“We felt it would be a national model in improving the appearance of ordinary structural elements in the urban environment. It is a very, very pragmatic application of art. It elevates public works and at the same time, it makes art accessible,” Soule said.
He’s uncomfortable with muted hues that allow behemoths to settle anonymously into the background. So he experiments with vibrant greens, yellows, oranges and foil appliques that change color.
He selects colors to highlight the design of a bridge and its setting, he says.
He wants to treat the bridges over Interstate 83 as a continuum--related, yet each with its own temperament.
“Driving under and through the city, there is a series of tunnel arches or bridge covers that sets up a natural rhythm. There should be some sort of color theme uniting them, but there should not be a bland blanket similarity from one to another,” he said.