Leaders of Baltimore’s arts and business communities gathered last weekend to celebrate the $62,000 restoration of Redwood Arch, a 35-year-old sculpture by Baltimore artist Linda DePalma that pays tribute to workers in the garment industry, the medical profession and other fields.
The main part of the sculpture rises near the intersection of Redwood and Paca streets, where five blue-green arches span Redwood Street and serve as a portal between Charles Center and the west side of downtown. Two freestanding columns, with the same blue-green coloration, mark the intersection of Redwood and Eutaw streets, a block away.
The site of Baltimore’s once-bustling garment district with its brick loft buildings, the area is now home to the growing University of Maryland, Baltimore campus and University of Maryland Medical Center.
Inserted in the framework of the arches are painted steel silhouettes with shapes that make reference to the area’s denizens past and present, including garment workers and medical professionals. Silhouette shapes include hats, scissors, ribbons and thread, as well as figures of runners, fighters, divers, dancers, and even dogs.
Over the years the paint colors faded and the metal rusted, lessening the sculpture’s visual impact. The recent work restored it to its original appearance and helped it stand out on the streetscape again.
“It’s got a facelift,” DePalma said. “It’s a real transformation.”
Redwood Arch is owned by the City of Baltimore, and the restoration work was reviewed and approved by the Public Art Commission, staffed by the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA). The conservator was Lori Trusheim of Halcyon Objects Conservation, LLC. DePalma said the conservator matched the paint colors that were used originally – including a shade dubbed Redwood Arch Green — and employed a grade of paint that she hopes will last another 35 years.
Funding for the work came from the Maryland State Arts Council, which provided $50,000, and the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, which allocated $12,000.
Speakers at the ceremony last Saturday included Shelonda Stokes, president of the Downtown Partnership; Jackie Downs, director of the Arts Council at BOPA; and David Mitchell, program director for Arts and Entertainment Districts and County Arts Programming at the Maryland State Arts Council.
Others at the event included BOPA chair Brian Lyles; curator and educator George Ciscle; Creative Alliance founding executive director Margaret Footner; artists Joyce Scott, Nicole Fall and Adam and Rachel Rush; and DePalma’s husband, artist Paul Daniel.
A Bolton Hill resident, DePalma, 76, is part of a group called Friends of Public Art (FOPA) that has been working to raise awareness of the city’s extensive inventory of public art and the need to protect and restore it.
During her remarks at the restoration celebration, she told the audience how the Redwood Arch came about and why she believes its restoration is significant.
“This piece was based on the history of this block,” she said. “If you look at these gorgeous buildings that go all the way down this block, they were originally the center for the men’s garment industry at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s. It was a very special place. Actually, it was second only to New York…in the garment industry.”
After the garment industry faded in the first half of the 20th century, DePalma said, the neighborhood “went a bit downhill, actually quite a bit downhill.” To revive the area and encourage other people to move in, she said, Maryland Art Place and a quasi-public agency called the Market Center Development Corporation sought and received a federal grant to improve sidewalks, landscaping and other facets of the streetscape.
DePalma said she was commissioned as part of that effort in the 1980s to create a work of art on Redwood Street that would help reinvigorate the old garment district, and she worked with a landscape architect, The Delta Group of Philadelphia. She said she created silhouettes of items that were made in Baltimore, such as a men’s straw boater hat, and incorporated them in the arches that span Redwood Street.
In the middle of the largest arch, “there’s a hand holding a needle and thread,” she said. “There are other loose threads. This all came about because of the garment industry. But then you’ll notice there are people running, jumping, diving, dancing, and there are parts that reference the medical industry. Those things all came together because when I did visit to decide what to make here…I thought this is a place in transition, so what about these people who are in transition?”
DePalma noted that traffic on Redwood Street went one-way westbound when the sculpture was created in 1988 and now goes one-way eastbound toward Charles Center, and she thinks it works well now as a gateway to downtown. She said she’s grateful that the sculpture has been restored and the people who worked on it were recognized.
“I’m glad we had a chance to honor all the people that were part of it.”