It took a bit longer than expected to complete, but those on hand Tuesday for the unveiling of a sculpture on the Susquehanna River Walk said it was worth the wait.
Oval-based artist Michael Patterson created the 35-foot-wide, stainless steel sculpture, which depicts nine fish native to the Susquehanna River. The piece is titled "What Lives in There."
The sculpture was installed just downstream from the Maynard Street Bridge on the concrete floodwall on the South Williamsport side of the river.
The piece was commissioned by local art advocacy group PublicARTWORKS, a subcommittee of the Lycoming County Celebrates the Arts Alliance. It was expected to be completed in about a year, but took several months longer to install.
When Patterson pulled down the plastic tarp covering the sculpture, a collective "wow" emanated from the large crowd assembled before it. They broke into spontaneous applause.
Patterson pointed to each fish in the sculpture: musky, shad, carp, smallmouth bass, walleye, catfish, sucker, sunfish and eel.
"This is what lives in there - right on the other side of this fence," Patterson said, pointing to the river.
"It was definitely worth the wait," said Yvonne DiRocco, alliance president. "I'm very excited."
"We are extremely pleased with it," said Karen Pinnsoneault, co-chairwoman of the committee. "Michael was magnificent to work with. I think the community will absolutely love it."
"I love it. I think it's going to add some pizzazz to the river walk and community," said borough Mayor David Lechniak. "It just adds on to the river walk, which gets better and better every year."
"It's a nice addition to the borough and shows our community values the river and wants to beautify it with art," said Michael Miller, borough administrator.
PublicARTWORKS plans to commission a piece of public art each year for the next 10 years and have them installed along the river walk. Patterson was the first to have his art installed by the committee. His piece joins Muncy artist Pam Madai Barner's lumber-era "woodhick," which is on the north side of the river west of the Market Street Bridge.
For Patterson, the last 18 months have been a labor of love.
Patterson said he chose the theme of the piece because he loves fish and fishing. Creating a piece showing species of fish native to the river was a perfect way of connecting the river walk to the river, he said.
At times, working on the project was stressful. Patterson worried how he would build the sculpture, then how he would install it.
On rare occasions, he questioned whether he even should have become involved in it at all.
But on Tuesday, those feelings disappeared in a flood of good will.
"You were the right choice, there is no doubt about it," committee member Mark Murawski told Patterson. "You have exceeded our expectations."
"I'm a little euphoric. I'm still in disbelief, but now there's closure to the whole thing," Patterson said, adding, "I'm really jazzed people are so into it."
Patterson said when he moved to the area in 1969, the river was little more than a garbage dump that nearly was devoid of aquatic life.
"The river was a mess," he said.
Now the river is much cleaner and the fish depicted in his sculpture - except the shad - are in abundance.
People should remember, however, that demands are being placed on the river by growing communities and that it should be treated with care and honor, Patterson said.
The sculpture was paid for with a $12,000 grant from the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania, and a legacy donation from Jane and Charlie Darrow, of Jersey Shore, in honor of Ann Combs Darrow, of Doylestown. All three were in attendance for the unveiling. Others donated, as well. Former county Commissioner Rebecca Burke donated proceeds from a retirement roast to public art.
Jennifer Wilson, executive director of the foundation, said the sculpture unveiling not only celebrates the art of Michael Patterson, but the art of giving demonstrated by the community.
County Pre-Release Center crews prepared the floodwall for the project by washing, painting and applying a graffiti-resistant coating to it.
According to committee co-chairwoman Laura Flynn, using crews from the center allowed the wall to be painted at a fraction of what it otherwise would cost.
The installation of the sculpture is a step toward making the area one of the greatest art communities in the nation, Murawski said.
"I'm thrilled," Flynn said. "It's so exciting to see how people in Williamsport are looking at art in a different way. It's almost becoming the arts center of central Pennsylvania."
"This has significance far beyond this event," said Jerry S. Walls, chairman of the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership. "It brings together so many elements if this community and the river itself."