Man sees south­east Ohio as an out­door gallery

Dayton Daily News - - LIFE - By Aaron Ep­ple Con­tribut­ing Writer Con­tact this con­tribut­ing writer at aaronep­[email protected]

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.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHO­TOS

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.

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