Man sees southeast Ohio as an outdoor gallery
Anyone who spends time on the Muskingum River near McConnelsville in Southeast Ohio after Oct. 30 might run into the world’s largest school of fish. Not in the water, please understand, but in the form of three 25-foot long sculptures “swimming” beside each other on 15-foot poles.
“They’re not specific types of fish,” said sculptor/welder David Griesmeyer. “One is like a sailfish, another a carp, the other a pinfish. They’re abstract but realistic. We still have time to add whiskers to one and call it a catfish if we want.”
The school of fish is only the first installation of the Ohio Art Corridor which, when finished, will be 230 miles long and consist of 19 sculptures adorning roadsides, towns, and natural settings throughout Southeast Ohio, connecting Lancaster, Zanesville, Circleville, Athens, and beyond. Depending on momentum and public enthusiasm, Griesmeyer envisions the Corridor extending throughout Ohio and other Midwestern states. The purpose is to attract public interest and tourist dollars to a beautiful but economically devastated part of the country.
“This area has been hit hard,” he said. “By the reduction of coal and other industries moving out. We asked ourselves what we can do to get people to want to see this part of the country. When I used to drive to Los Angeles, I would see signs advertising the world’s largest rubber band ball, and I’m the type of guy who would stop to see that. I’m fascinated by festivals like Burning Man, which manages to bring 100,000 people to the middle of the desert. Our plan is to change the dynamics of Southeast Ohio. The largest art corridor in the world is currently in Sweden, and it’s only about 67 miles. Ours dwarfs that.”
Griesmeyer is 40 years old, but only started sculpting four years ago. Although a Zanesville native and a lifelong art enthusiast, he was actually working as a medical rep in Florida when he had his epiphany.
“I was on my way to a hospital when I came to a red light and looked left,” he said. “There was a vacant lot full of empty rooms, but I just saw people welding and building things. I called my wife and said, ‘Honey, I think I have to start a metal fabrication business.’ She said, ‘Are you nuts?’”
Griesmeyer moved back to Ohio and enrolled in a welding program, where he learned to weld commercially and artistically. In 2014, he opened DG Welding and Design.
As the proud new owner of a company that combined commercial metalwork and sculpture, the idea for the Ohio Art Corridor was born.
“Initially, the idea was how to get people to see what we’re doing in the shop,” he said. “So we made this gigantic metal dragonfly and stuck it in a local park without telling anyone. People were like, ‘where did that come from?’ We realized we had to do something big to get people talking, and that this can’t just be about us. It has to be for everybody in town, and then we thought, ‘why stop there?’”
The timeline for the Ohio Art Corridor is to install three sculptures per year.
In the meantime, Griesmeyer has outsourced a lot of the creativity, remaining a chief consultant on the design and engineering processes.
“This is a regional project, so we’re getting a lot of schools involved,” he said. “Naturally, they want art that represents them, like their school mascots. The Corridor is also meant to draw attention to the art that already exists in smalltown Ohio, like the beautiful murals that Circeville has.”
While the school of fish was financed entirely by DG Welding as a gift to the community, Griesmeyer is now partnering with corporations, private donors, and local and state officials to finance the sculptures and work the logistics of legally and safely installing them throughout the landscape.
“We’re partnering with universities to send us interns,” he said. “I’m seeing a lot of millennials looking for something different to give value for their lives, and the trades are a wonderful thing. You can use welding to make something beautiful, not just to connect pipes. When young people participate, they take ownership of these sculptures, and they’ll be able to show them to their children. It’s a legacy project.”
Still, even such a lofty ideal is not without its pitfalls.
“One of our sculpture ideas is to build a 35-foottall, white-tailed buck on one side of the river, and a doe and two fauns on the other side,” he said. “The theme is to commemorate Ohio hunting, and somebody asked, ‘What if somebody shoots it?’”
To learn more about the Ohio Art Corridor, visit theartcorridor.org.
This massive metal dragonfly, which sculptor David Griesmeyer secretly installed in a park, is a forerunner of the Ohio Art Corridor. Welders at David Griesmeyer’s DG Welding & Design work on creating the “school of fish” sculpture, to be unveiled in McConnelsville on Oct. 30.