In the last two years, Gregg Schlanger, professor of art at Austin Peay State University, has processed 75,000 pounds of Memphis mud to make 7,000 bricks for a community-based public art project he was commissioned to build.
And after countless trips to Memphis for research, meetings and hard labor, the effort – which proved to be a true example of community involvement – is complete.
At 3 p.m., Dec. 13 in Memphis, a dedication ceremony will unveil Rugby Gates, a series of brick gateways along a main road in the Rugby neighborhood of Memphis. Schlanger will be among Memphis dignitaries and local residents to attend the event.
Rugby Gates marks a neighborhood where the original brickyards of Memphis were located. The project was commissioned by The Urban Art Commission, which administers the public art program for the city of Memphis. The concept for the project developed following several meetings with city officials, neighborhood organizers, local schools and extensive research on the history of the area.
“Many people attached to this area helped me to put together the project,” Schlanger said. “Community involvement was displayed at all stages of this.”
The construction of Rugby Gates involved 26 Memphis high school students hired to assist in making bricks during a five-weeklong after-school program. Also, students went door to door, handing out 2,500 fliers informing the neighborhood about the project and receiving names to be carved into the bricks.
The final piece consists of 12 brick columns with carved relief depicting images relating to the area’s history. Two large columns serving as the gateway into the neighborhood, approximately the same location where the original stone gateway into Rugby was, are 4 feet by 20 feet. Another 10 columns, measuring 2 feet by 5 feet, serve as five small gateways.
“The history of Rugby as a brick-making area intrigued me,” Schlanger said.
The project began in November 2006. Schlanger transported 80,000 pounds of Memphis clay by trucks to his studio in Clarksville, where the clay was processed and the bricks were made and carved.
In addition to his ongoing work with Rugby Gates, Schlanger was involved in two other public art projects. He created a dozen digital print collages for the Daviess County Public Library in Owensboro, Ky., two of which were chosen to flank the entrance to the history wing of the library.
And in 2007, he spent five weeks in Germany, researching issues on global water consumption. His research culminated into an installation, titled “B.W.R. (basic water requirements) 50 Liters,” at Kunsthaus Potsdam, a nonprofit arts organization in Potsdam, Germany.