Oval-based artist Michael Patterson is about to make a big splash on the Williamsport-area art scene.
On Friday Patterson unveiled a mock-up of a proposed sculpture to be installed this year on the Susquehanna Riverwalk, the paved pedestrian-bikeway located on both sides of the river between the Market Street and Maynard Street bridges.
The unveiling was made during a reception and fundraiser hosted by local art advocacy group PublicARTWORKS Committee in the Capitol Lounge of the Community Art Center.
CRAIG S. McKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette
Welding instructor and sculpture artist Mike Patterson holds one of the first parts of his winning proposal for a sculpture as part of the Public Art Riverwalk project Friday evening in the Patron’s Lounge of the Community Arts Center in Downtown Williamsport.
The 35 foot-wide, stainless steel sculpture will depict an array of fish common to the Susquehanna River on a background of splashing water. Depicted fish will include small mouth bass, walleye, muskellunge, sunfish, sucker, carp, catfish and American eel, Patterson said.
The sculpture will be installed on the concrete floodwall located on the south side of the river just downstream from the Maynard Street bridge.
The piece will be the first installment in an initiative by the committee in partnership with the county to install one piece of public art on the Riverwalk each year for the next 10 years, said county Transportation Planner and committee treasurer Mark Murawski.
It will join a sculpture already installed on the Riverwalk - a life-size bronze, lumber-era "woodhick" created by Muncy artist Pam Madai Barner.
Barner's piece, which has become a focal point of the river trail, provided the impetus for more artwork to be installed on the trail. The committee, which already had been formed and was responsible for the installation of a sculpture at the Williamsport Regional Airport, realized the trail would be a prime location for a sculpture garden.
They sent requests for proposals to artists throughout the region and Patterson was one of 12 who responded. He eventually was placed on a "short list" of three artists to be interviewed by a panel.
The panel was impressed not only by Patterson's sculpture concept, but also by his enthusiasm and love for the area.
"The passion Mike has for his work and the love he has for this community came through loud and clear," said committee co-chair Laura Flynn.
"When we went thought the vetting process, we had artists from other states (submit proposals)," Flynn said. "The fact that we found a gem of an artist in our own back yard really excited us."
Committee Chairwoman Yvonne Roskowski said the community will be excited when they see Patterson's work, as well. The sculpture will be large and visible from many locations, she said.
"I think it is just going to blow everybody away," Roskowski said. "You'll be able to see it from so many different areas in town. It's such a positive thing for our community."
According to Murawski, the concept for art along the Riverwalk was for it to compliment the river. Both Barner and Patterson's sculptures do that, he said.
Patterson unveiled the mock-up to great applause. He said when he received the request for proposals, he took several walks along the Riverwalk seeking inspiration for what he would submit.
One day he was walking by the floodwall with a friend from California who was a marine biologist. As Patterson gazed at the wall, his friend gazed at the river.
His friend said, "What lives in there" - not as a question, but as a statement, Patterson said.
When Patterson heard those words - which also titles his piece - the entire concept of his sculpture revealed itself to him, he said.
Patterson sent a drawing of his concept to the committee, then forgot about it.
Months later, he was in his back yard when his wife announced that he'd been selected.
"I was shocked," Patterson said. "I didn't think I had a chance. I was truly, truly shocked."
He was shocked again when he read in the Sun-Gazette that he would be presenting the mock-up at the reception. He quickly set about making his paper prototype. Patterson teaches welding at Pennsylvania College of Technology and has decades of experience welding steel, but found dealing with paper to be a much greater challenge. He got the mock-up done in time for the reception, however.
He expressed confidence in his ability to complete the actual sculpture by the committee's October deadline.
Patterson said it "is without question, physically the biggest job I've ever had, and in every other aspect the most challenging."
He is up for the challenge, however.
He studied welding at Williamsport Area Community College, then worked for seven years as a welder at the nuclear power plant in Berwick.
After that, he spent 11 years welding in Antarctica before striking out as a full-time artist. Five years ago he began juggling that vocation with his job as a teacher at Penn College.
A portion of the cost of the sculpture is being paid for through a $12,000 grant from the First Community Foundation. However, the committee is seeking donations to pay for the sculpture and subsequent pieces to be installed on the Riverwalk.
The non-profit organization has created a legacy program to allow individuals, families, businesses or corporations to sponsor a memorial piece to be part of the Riverwalk, according to committee member Judy Olinsky.
A link to the program, as well as other information about the art initiative, can be found on the committee's web site at www.lycomingpublicartworks.org, she said.
Olinsky said it is fitting for art to be displayed along the river.
"This land was shaped by that river. It is the core of everything we have here," she said.
Jerry S. Walls, chairman of the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership, described that organization's work to develop a trail system that eventually will connect trails in Pennsylvania to those in New York and Maryland.