As the saying goes, “you have to walk before you crawl”. If you are in Charlotte, NC you can literally walk and crawl at the same time. If you are strolling along the South Tryon to North Tryon corridor, you can organize a self-guided tour of the visual art works on that route. Here you’ll find statues and murals to delight the tastes of any connoisseur.
Here’s how to see the amazing outdoor art of Charlotte, and some of the most interesting pieces you won’t want to miss.
No Longer Divided
Near the Harvey B. Gantt African-American Arts and Culture Museum located at 551 S. Tryon St., you can gaze upon artist David Wilson’s Divergent Threads, Lucent Memories mural. This vivid and distinctive art piece makes its understanding from the strength and relevance of connections in the African American community. It evokes feelings of hope for a community no longer divided by differences.
Walk just one block further, and you will discover a whimsical area Charlotteans know as The Green. This intimate space is bordered by a Catholic church and numerous eateries. It is an outdoor gallery that doubles as a favorite lunch stop for many who work in the lively downtown.
This is a child-friendly space full of wonderment and discovery. If you ever craved to learn the distance between Charlotte and Amalie, St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, you will find the answer in the art on The Green. You are certain to be enthralled by the towering bronze sculpture of books revealing the titles of well-known works of literature such as Roots by Alex Haley, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, and Wuthering Heights by Emile Bronte.
Just across the road from The Green sits the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and The Mint Museum. You don’t have to run inside to experience an example of beautiful artistry — although it is very much recommended. You can’t miss the 17-foot sculpture covered head to toe in mirrored and colored glass.
This piece, named Firebird, was designed in 1991 by French- American sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle. If you stare at it long enough, you’ll notice the bird is perched on on an arch; it’s not the formidable glass monster you assume you are facing from across the street.
Your tour has not ended there. On the next stop, planted between the many employees who may be entering and passing from the Wells Fargo Plaza which houses the bank of the same name, you will find art literally jumping out of the fountains. Yes, The Fountains Sculptures by American sculptor Dennis Smith depict life-like statues of children playing in the water on the plaza. Your inner child will summon you to it, evoking memories of a time when your only job in the world was playing with your friends.
From the youngsters, you’ll walk to the intersection of Trade and Tryon. Situated on the four corners, atop granite bases that intersect these two roads, you are privy to the artistic portrayal of Charlotte’s past, present, and future as shaped by Raymond Kaskey.
The four bronze sculptures represent Transportation, The Future, Commerce, and Industry. Each figure is more than meets the eye. There are many themes and subtleties that you warrant several minutes of staring. You will forget yourself in each figure and the busyness of the place will dissolve as you marvel in each chiseled face, adornment, and image.
You will also notice an enormous disk at this crossroads. You’ll ask yourself, Is it a record? Is it a wheel of some sort? You will contemplate its relevance and maybe even choose to take a selfie in front of it. No doubt you will continue to question its unusual elements as it holds its place along the walking path on Tryon St. What you will be viewing is called II Grande Disco created by artist Arnaldo Pomodoro.
After you’ve adequately examined the sculptures and crossed the street, you will be looking at a bright multicolor bear. He’s clearly not Smokey the Bear, and he’s absolutely not a bear that you should be frightened of. His arms are held up high as if performing an ovation. He is a 6-foot gift to the City of Charlotte that stays near the primary branch of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library. Buddy Bear’s distinctive design illustrates the spirit of Charlotte through artist Sharon Dowell. Dowell was chosen as the artists via a public contest hosted by the Charlotte Arts and Science Council and McColl Center for Visual Arts in 2014.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Public 157,000 Sq. Ft library also hosts art on the columns leading into the building. Here, you will find quotes from distinguished thinkers across the centuries stencilled into each column. A few famous quotes you may be able to find:
“The man who has no imagination has no wings.” – Muhammed Ali
“When the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.” – Thomas Jefferson
“Literature is my utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourses of my book friends.” – Helen Keller
“Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” – Walter Cronkite
“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.” – Walt Disney
Tryon Street in uptown Charlotte is overflowing with ingenious works of art that are delightful, intellectually appealing, and emotionally compelling. The busiest thoroughfare of Charlotte, NC is itself a giant art gallery. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other. Have fun!