Long buried underneath Dilworth roads, miles of streetcar rails are now serving as the main material for a publicly funded art project in the Charlotte neighborhood. “Dilworth is a very progressive neighborhood, and this is something we’re so proud of,” said Michael Orell, who grew up in Dilworth and helped unveil the public art project during a community ceremony on Sunday at Romany and Dilworth roads.
Serendipity was the catalyst for the art project, which now sits next to Latta Park. During street reconstruction in 2009, workers discovered miles of rails that had been covered since the 1930s. Edward Dilworth Latta, who helped create a successful clothing store in Charlotte and who owned property in what was to become Dilworth, helped create the streetcar system to draw residents away from the city center to the then-suburb of Dilworth. When the rails were rediscovered, Dilworth resident Ron Peterson suggested that the neighbors turn it into a public art project that paid homage to the community, which celebrated its 120th anniversary in 2011.
Over the next couple of years, the six-member Dilworth Art Project committee, composed of volunteers from the neighborhood, raised $30,000 through donations and the sale of rail spikes that had been converted into bottle openers. The committee then asked for proposals from all North and South Carolina artists. More than 60 artists applied, and the committee settled on five finalists. During an event in May at Elder Gallery, residents from Dilworth viewed the mockups and gave their feedback. “The public has been heavily involved since the beginning,” Orell said.
Ultimately, Asheville artist Robert Winkler won the bid. The sunrise-shaped sculpture known as “Timeline” consists entirely of salvaged rail from the 2009 road work on East Boulevard. Standing 10 feet tall and stretching 18 feet long, the sculpture consists of multiple Vs. The orientation of the piece means that it looks different from every angle, Winkler said. “When the sun goes over it, you can see how it looks so different throughout the day,” Dilworth Art Project committee member Jill Walker said. “Everything about it was unbelievably perfect. It just kind of swept us all off our feet.”
To commemorate the neighborhood’s history, Winkler said, he pointed the front of the sculpture to uptown, where the streetcar began. The back points to the Dilworth neighborhood. “We tried to stay faithful to the area’s history,” Winkler said. Walker said the committee hopes the “Timeline” sculpture is the first of many publicly commissioned art projects for the Dilworth community. “We hope we’ll become the neighborhood that’s known and recognized for supporting the artists and promoting public art,” she said.
Charlotte Observer By Elisabeth Arriero