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QC's History Preserved in Its Public Art

by Mark I. West

QC's History Preserved in Its Public Art

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Picture by Gavin West

February 10, 2014

Representational art has its place, and representational pieces have played an important role in preserving history, telling  stories, and inspiring viewers to remember the past as they look towards the future. The stories they tell are readily apparent, and easy to interpret. But abstract pieces, though less transparent in their message, carry a unique power to tell stories. My favorite example in Charlotte is Robert Winkler’s sculpture, Time Line, installed about a year ago at the intersection of Romany and Dilworth Road, which commemorates the special role that streetcars played in the founding of the Dilworth neighborhood in the 1890s.

Winkler combined art and history in part through the materials he used when fabricating his sculpture. He built Time Line out of salvaged rails from the actual streetcar line that used to run down East Boulevard. These rails had been paved over in the 1930s and remained hidden until 2009 when they were unburied during a road construction project. Winkler welded the rails together, but did not alter the intrinsic appearance of them.

Streetcars moved people, and Winkler captured this sense of movement through the design of his sculpture. He joined the rails together to form a fan-like pattern that almost appears to be animated, especially when one views the sculpture from a moving vehicle. By arranging the rails in a sequence, Winkler creates a sense of motion in a way that is reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp’s famous painting Nude Descending a Staircase.

Photo by Gavin WestGot me thinking...

I applaud Winkler for creating a work of public art that commemorates our history through the creative reuse of existing artifacts from Charlotte’s past. In fact, I am so inspired by his piece, I find myself noticing opportunites for more work like it. 

Recently I found myself thinking about Winkler’s approach to celebrating history through art as I drove down South Boulevard and noticed the towering sign for the long-defunct Queen Park movie theatre. Located near the intersection of South Boulevard and Old Pineville Road, the sign marks the spot where one of Charlotte’s first multiplex theatres stood and where before that the Queens Park Drive-In Theatre showed movies.

When I made Charlotte my home in 1984, I occasionally saw movies at the Queens Park, but the theatre closed for business in the late 1990s and the building was demolished in 2006. However, by some miracle, the towering sign still stands. As I gazed at the sign, it occurred to me that Winkler or some other gifted sculptor could transform this sign into a work of public art celebrating Charlotte’s connections to the world of motion pictures.

The sign already has a sculptural quality to it. The supporting structure for this sign resembles an elongated X. The design reminds me of Seattle’s Space Needle, although of course it is not nearly as tall as the Space Needle. Still, it is the tallest structure along that stretch of South Boulevard, and it commands attention.

The location of the Queen Park sign is ideally situated for a public work of art celebrating Charlotte’s film history. In addition to marking the spot where both a drive-in theatre and a multiplex theatre showed movies, it is also very near the locations where popular major movies were filmed. For example, a pivotal scene in the movie Shallow Hal was filmed in a restaurant that is now called The Liberty, which is also located on South Boulevard about a mile from the Queen Park sign. A key scene in Hunger Games was filmed at the Knight Theatre, which is only about two miles away from the Queen Park sign.

One of Winkler’s strengths as a sculptor is his ability to convey as sense of movement. This quality would work well in a sculpture related to the history of motion pictures. Perhaps a sculpture could be designed that actually moves, such as Jean Tinguely’s Cascade, which is located in the Carillon Building. Kinetic art and motion pictures are a natural pairing.

Winkler's Time Line inspired me to look at other landmarks in Charlotte as works of art, or as pieces that could - and should - inspire works of art. And I want to see that happen more. As Charlotte matures as a cultural center, I hope that we will see a continued flowering of public art that celebrates our history in often overlooked places, and in unexpected ways.


Learn more about the Time Line project, in this video by Donald Devet.

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Tags: Time Line, Winkler, Dilworth, Charlotte Art, Sculpture

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