When sculptor in residence Will Vannerson arrived in Lexington, he had plans for the piece he was to create, but he lacked the materials.
Time to hunt.
"I thought about the area and said, there have got to be some old tractor tires out there," Vannerson recalls, and sure enough, he found one. It was an old Goodyear tire, still complete in form and imposing in size but useless for its original purpose because of a blowout.
Now it is the centerpiece of Vannerson's work for Reclamation, an outdoor art exhibit that will open Friday as part of Lexington's Gallery Hop.
"That's one of the important things about art and artists, is we create something of value out of nothing," Vannerson says, taking a break from welding the piece he's racing to complete in time for the opening.
That is essentially the spirit of Reclamation, a collaboration among LexArts, the University of Kentucky department of art, The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky and the South Hill Group, which has developed several condominium complexes around the university during the past few years.
Pieces from Reclamation will be displayed prominently at several South Hill developments including Cigar Flats and Center Court.
The project came about when the Art Museum received a grant for a sculpture residency. Then LexArts and South Hill came on board.
"With the economic climate the way it is, it's a good opportunity to pool our resources," said Nathan Zamarron, community arts manager for LexArts, the Lexington group that helps develop, advocate and raise money for the arts.
LexArts had just completed Balancing Act, an outdoor sculpture display in downtown Lexington.
"A good amount of their budget was going to be used for pedestals for the pieces" in Reclamation, Zamarron says, "so we were able to offer our pedestals."
The South Hill Group had property on which to display the pieces, and the UK art department had space for the visiting artists to work. Vannerson and the other sculptor in residence, Patrick Toups, have also staying in condos provided by the South Hill Group.
"I took one look at it," Vannerson said of the condo, "and said, 'Do you know who we are?' We'll probably be tracking mud in here.
Earlier this week, Vannerson's Tractortown Titan and Toups' Recover were works in progress at the sculpture shop behind UK's Reynolds Building, where welding sparks were flying and hammers were banging the metal into shape.
Vannerson, a master of fine arts student at the University of Kansas, and Toups, an MFA student at Georgia State University in Atlanta, got into the exhibit after a call for artists was issued earlier this year.
Both described it as an exciting opportunity to travel, work, meet with colleagues, and have their work on prominent display.
"It's sort of like being a rock star on tour," Vannerson says.
Toups says his 21- to 22-foot-long, 7- to 8-foot-high sculpture is "the largest piece I have made on the road."
While they have similar appreciation for the theme of reclaiming the old to make something new and enjoy the challenge of working on the road, the artists have strikingly dissimilar ways of working.
Toups was collecting and coordinating delivery of his materials before he was accepted into the exhibit, and by Tuesday morning, he was almost finished with his piece. Vannerson was racing against a deadline, actively banging and welding his piece into shape.
Christine Phelps Willis, spokeswoman for the South Hill Group, says the theme of reclamation was chosen to reflect what was happening with art and redevelopment in downtown.
"We want to engage the city and improve the city," she says. "Our goal has been to work with the university, and this is a great way to do it."
Three pieces in Reclamation are by UK students, and Willis says South Hill is presenting other exhibits of UK students' work, including a photography display at Center Court. There will be an after-Hop party at Cigar Flats to highlight some of that work.
The Reclamation exhibit itself will wind through the South Hill neighborhood starting at Cigar Flats and ending at the UK museum, in the Singletary Center for the Arts.
South Hill development director Robert Trujillo sees the exhibit as a natural outgrowth of Cigar Flats, warehouses that have been converted into housing by using reclaimed objects such as barn doors and previously felled oak trees.
"We've had a lot of local artists involved in envisioning Cigar Flats," Trujillo says, citing metal sculptor Mickey Maxsum, who worked on fencing. "Really, the whole neighborhood is a reclamation project."
The pieces in Reclamation will remain up for nine months, giving viewers a chance to see how they mesh with the seasons. Toups is seeding Recover with trumpet vines, in hopes they will grow and the red blooms will provide another character to the piece.
Contemplating the overall event, Vannerson says, "The theme of this exhibition and residency is a great notion: rather than abandon ship, get some artists in there, add some value. There should be five of these in every city."