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Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Community Bridge

Nothing a painter can do with pigment and brushes surpasses the impact of a large-scale mural. And the most awesome style a muralist can employ is that of trompe l'oeil (fool the eye). In Frederick, Maryland, stands a bridge with a trompe l'oeil mural painted upon it's side.  Experts have come from around the world to look at it and some even ask, "Where's the mural we came to see?", not realizing that they are actually looking at it. Every last one of the 3,000 stones on the concrete and stucco bridge is a fool-the-eye masterpiece.  So is the ivy covering parts of the bridge, and the algae apparently growing near the waterline. An antique dealer once tried to buy the iron gate which appears to cover a wooden door. Visitors routinely try to reach through the gate to open the door. There is even an anamorphic projection that from straight on appears to be some form of abstract image. Only when seen looking down from a window in the adjacent Delaplaine Visual Arts Center can one visualize it as an archangel.

The Community Bridge,
Frederick, Maryland,
William Cochran
The artist is William Cochran, and for more than five years, he has worked daily on his massive 2,500 square foot creation covering both facing walls and all supporting walls of the Carroll Street Bridge. Each stone averages approximately 48 minutes to paint though when the time spent by the artist in promoting, supervising, and raising funds for the entire project is averaged in, the time stretches to something like 4.3 hours. Multiply that by the some 3,000 illusionary stones and you get some idea of the kind of devotion needed by the artist and the army of support personnel behind the scenes that have brought this work dubbed "The Community Bridge" to completion. The cost has been almost $300,000, half of which was raised by private donation, the rest from various state, county, and city sources.

Many of the stones in the bridge appear to have symbols carved into them, everything from a steaming cup of coffee to a school bell, a motorcycle, a rose, fireworks, and a porch swing. On a greater scale is a niche with a Grecian statue, another with a fountain, and of course the iron gate that is not for sale. There is an uncontrollable urge to touch it.  Once the paint has dried, viewers are encouraged to in fact. Creative input for the mural has come from the community, from school children to college professors. Technical assistance has come from as far away as Germany (where the special potassium silicate-based paint was made). Surface preparation of the hundred-foot-long bridge took almost as long as the painting itself. From a distance, the bridge with its tan, rusticated stone is quite attractive. Up close the most often heard expression is "awesome".

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