A massive steel structure towers and twists across a green space, creating a striking gateway to downtown Enid with its event center, restaurants and businesses.
After more than two and a half years of creating, fundraising and problem-solving, Romy Owens’ “Under Her Wing Was the Universe” is getting closer to launch.
“It’s been a learning curve for me and it’s been a learning curve for the community. … There’s never been a public art project like this in Enid,” the artist said, standing under the artwork nicknamed “The Wing.”
“But I think it is worth it because it’s community building and it’s place making — and I know what public art can do for a community. … It’s worth it to do it for Enid.”
Devised as an artistic pavilion, the functional large-scale structure consists of an abstract sculptural cover that is to be equipped with a starry light installation, giving the sense of stepping under a large bird’s wing and discovering a universe under it. She said Oklahoma City’s Skylark AV is to start installing the cable system for the lights to be rigged this week.
“They are volunteering their time to make that possible, which is fantastic. Then after that, it’s seeding, signage, finishing the landscaping in the spring. So, we’re really in that final home stretch,” Owens said. “In my belief of public art, you want it to have functionality so that it benefits not only the community that lives here but it also is an attractant for people from out of town.”
“The Wing” is intended to be a gift to Owens’ hometown inspired by her mother, Nancy Martin, who died three years ago. Owens recently moved back to Enid after building her career as an artist and curator in Oklahoma City.
Although she has been involved in more than a dozen public art projects, “The Wing” is Owens’ first in Enid and by far the largest.
Through her grassroots fundraising efforts, 815 individuals, businesses and organizations have donated to the project, raising more than $250,000. Counting in-kind donations, the total climbs to half a million dollars, she said.
Most of the donations have come from Oklahoma, including about a third from fellow Enid residents, and numerous $100 donors took the chance to name one of the stars that will shine under “The Wing.” Owens modified heavy-duty cafe lights by covering them in a liquid called Plasti Dip and then scoring the opaque coating so that pinpoints of “starlight” shine through when they are suspended from the cable system.
“I think it is beautiful from so many different angles. It is really cool to be really close to it and walk … under it and get an idea of how this is actually going to be. I love giant things — I always have — so I think it’s fantastic,” said fellow Enid artist Kelly Tompkins, former director of Main Street Enid who has painted several murals around the community.
“It’s hard to let people see the progress when it’s not finished … so I feel for Romy in that way. But I think everyone is just going to be in awe over it when it’s complete.”
The massive artwork has dominated two and a half years of Owens’ life, bringing a host of challenges and triumphs.
“People are very supportive, and they’ve been really great about it. But at the end of the day, the fundraising was the biggest single challenge. Weather was a huge challenge. We had the wettest spring in years, and in a floodplain where it holds water, big construction trucks couldn’t come out here and do what they needed to do. So that really caused a significant amount of our delays,” she said.
Dominating two and half acres of city-owned land off Park Avenue between Grand and Independence, the sculptural pavilion measuring about 25 feet tall, 35 feet wide and 130 feet long is designed to be the centerpiece of a downtown green space that is attractive and useful. Along with getting the cable system and lights installed, Owens is focused on eradicating Bermuda grass.
“It’s a floodplain so it has a very functional use for the city of Enid, but we want to turn it into a beautiful sponge. It will be a meadow with flowers and grasses and trees, all native to Oklahoma, so that we’re doing our best to generate populations of butterflies and bumblebees,” Owens said. “At the end of the day, I’m creating a park.”
Enid City Council Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell said “The Wing” already is a proven draw for the community.
“The piece of art will become an asset of the city of Enid once it’s all done. … It’s not an area where anything else of note could be built because of the floodplain requirements,” Ezzell said.
“I know that there are folks who won’t like it no matter what it is — and that’s OK. Not everybody has to like a piece of art. It will certainly be memorable. I like it and I know lots of other folks like it. … When you have an artist that comes with this vision and an installation and a giant gift to the community, it’s pretty hard not to get excited.”
With its large scale and structural qualities, Enid City Manager Jerald Gilbert said “The Wing” has been a complicated project with a learning curve for the city. Along with the land, the project has received a $30,000 Public Art Commission of Enid grant and a $5,000 Enid Arts Council grant.
“Not only will this be a nice project when it’s finished, but the lessons learned for the city — and maybe the community and Romy — will hopefully refine the process and make it better and hopefully smoother. I think in the end, we’re all going to be happy that we have this project downtown,” Gilbert said.
For Owens, she is looking forward to celebrating “The Wing’s” spring completion with a party for donors and an event for the community.
“It’s always good to learn things and be open to new information … like I’ve learned that I don’t ever want to work with concrete again,” Owens said with a chuckle.
“I can’t wait ’til we’re done and I can celebrate. … There’s a lot of room for celebration here.”
TO KNOW MORE
To follow the progress of “Under Her Wing Was the Universe,” go to www.facebook.com/underherwingwastheuniverse.
Story provided by The Oklahoman
Written by: Brandy McDonnell