A rendering of Jake’s Skate Park, which is planned to be constructed at Rash Field on the Inner Harbor’s south shore. Rendering courtesy of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore.
A rendering of Jake’s Skate Park, which is planned to be constructed at Rash Field on the Inner Harbor’s south shore. Rendering courtesy of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore.

There was a time when skateboards were just skateboards. Now they’re works of art, collectible objects to display on a wall or mantel, not just ride.

The Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore is taking advantage of this trend by harnessing the talent of local artists to create one-of-a-kind skatedecks that can be sold to help build a new skate park on Rash Field.

Starting today the organization is auctioning off more than 60 skatedecks – skateboards without the wheels – and all the proceeds will support construction of Jake’s Skate Park, a key feature of the $16.8 million first phase of the Rash Field transformation now underway on the Inner Harbor’s south shore.

Local artists such as Crystal Moll, Robert McClintock and Jennifer Berk contributed skatedecks that they painted. Filmmaker John Waters autographed one. Skateboard professional Joey Jett contributed three boards, plus hand-screened jackets and hoodies to auction off. Students from the Mother Seton Academy and Thomas Johnson Elementary School made donations.

The themes run the gamut, with many of the decks featuring Baltimore and Maryland subjects such as the Orioles and Oriole Park, the Domino Sugars sign, the Bromo Seltzer Tower, Edgar Allan Poe, Black-Eyed Susans, Mr. Boh and Mr. Trash Wheel.

Michel Modell painted three decks with butterfly themes, and they’re being offered as a triptych. Kate Norris created a “mixed media wallpaper collage” skate deck.  Aj Pyatak created one that lights up. Many have a personal story behind them, such as the risqué one painted by a cancer survivor.

They’ve all been photographed and posted online for the virtual fundraiser, which started at 9 a.m. today and ends tomorrow, April 9, at 9 p.m. Eastern time. Each work of art can be seen and bid on at https://www.biddingowl.com/WaterfrontPartnership.

Baltimore filmmakers John Waters autographed this skatedeck, one of several that artists have decked out to be auctioned off to support the construction of Jake’s Skate Park. Photo by Ed Gunts.

Jakes’ Skate Park will be on the west side of Rash Field Park, a 7.5-acre section of the Inner Harbor shoreline that’s being reconstructed in two phases to be more usable and welcoming to city residents and visitors. Other features of Phase 1 include a nature park, a “kinetic playground,” a lawn and a pavilion featuring a waterfront café and a “green roof overlook.”

Construction work on the first phase began in January of 2020 and is expected to be finished later this year. People can donate to the effort and follow its progress at rashfield.org.

The skate park is named in memory of Jake Owen, a five-year-old skateboarder and sports enthusiast whose life was cut short in 2011 when a cellphone-distracted driver struck his family’s car from behind while traveling 62 miles per hour. Jakes’ last words were, “Mom, I have 43 lives.”

The skate park is a dedicated space within Rash Field that will feature a bowl, mini-ramps, rails, ledges and transfers. It’s intended to be accessible to people of all ages and abilities. The designer is Grindline Skateparks of Seattle, Washington, a specialist in the field.

“With construction on the skate park now underway, we are so close to making Jake’s Skate Park a reality,” said Waterfront Partnership president Laurie Schwartz, in a statement “Working with the Owen family and partners like professional skateboarder and Baltimorean Joey Jett, the Grindline team, Skatepark of Baltimore and community volunteers, we are building a welcoming and top-of-the-line space in Jake’s memory.”

Cindy Conklin stands amid some of the skatedecks that will be auctioned off to support the construction of Jake’s Skate Park. Photo by Ed Gunts.

The fundraiser was the idea of Cindy Conklin and Bob Merbler, long-time real estate brokers who live in Federal Hill and wanted to support the Rash Field revitalization effort and the skate park in particular. They’re hoping the auction will raise $50,000 or more to help create the skate park.

Conklin, with Berkshire Hathaway Homesale Realty, said she used seed money to purchase basic skate decks — mostly new but some vintage — and then asked professional and amateur artists to turn them into works of art. She said she’s hoping the auction will raise $50,000 or more to build the skate park, which has an estimated cost of $475,000.

“We’re delighted to be able to bring the community together to support the skate park, a space that we know will bring a lot of joy and special memories to families and kids across the area,” she said.

Conklin said the artists weren’t given a theme that might limit what they could do.

“I wanted every artist to say, ‘Here’s what I want to do.’ “ she said. “I thought that would be more fun….Everybody interpreted it differently.”

Conklin said she didn’t know what to expect when she started last fall and has been overwhelmed and gratified by the response. She was especially touched by the contribution of 15-year-old Reid Glaros, a boyhood friend of Jake Owen. He created two skate decks in his friend’s honor, both with Jake’s name as part of the composition. His deck that shows Oriole Park, with Jake’s name in the infield and clouds above, is especially poignant.

“Baltimore has so many talented artists,” Conklin said. “Everyone took this seriously. The skate park needs money. They need to finish it. Everyone hopped on board.”

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.