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Artist Bob Hasselle is shown with"Spirit of Place, for William Carlos Williams" at his home in Rock Hill. Hasselle sculpted the 240-pound bronze piece in 1967; it will be displayed at the Gettys Center in downtown Rock Hill.
Artist Bob Hasselle is shown with"Spirit of Place, for William Carlos Williams" at his home in Rock Hill. Hasselle sculpted the 240-pound bronze piece in 1967; it will be displayed at the Gettys Center in downtown Rock Hill.

Downtown Rock Hill's venture into public art is taking off this week in the form of two local artists' abstract metal sculptures, installed in separate locations.

Rock Hill artist Bob Hasselle's "Spirit of Place," a 240-pound bronze sculpture of an American Indian head he created as a graduate student in 1967, will be unveiled at 7 tonight outside the Gettys Center during an arts crawl and public arts market.

Lancaster metal sculptor Bob Doster's eight-foot-tall carbon steel arch stands amid the greenery in front of the Rock Hill Telephone Co. Museum on Elk Avenue, across from Rock Hill City Hall.

The works are part of the Arts Council of Rock Hill and York County's goal to increase downtown's cultural vitality with public art displays, said executive director Debra Heintz.

"We really want Rock Hill to become a destination for artists and art lovers," she said. "The placement of these two sculptures will help identify Rock Hill as an arts anchor."

Yet another major public arts project is in the works at the former Rock Hill Cotton Factory, which is undergoing a $10 million transformation into the headquarters of Williams & Fudge, the locally owned college loan collection agency.

In an elaborate selection process for a public art piece at the site, more than 30 artists were asked to submit proposals to a committee; four finalists were chosen. The finished work is expected to cost no more than $100,000.

Williams & Fudge CEO Gary Williams could not be reached for comment on the status of that project.

Hasselle's massive sculpture, valued at about $20,000, features a three-dimensional image of the Indian head nickel topped by Coke bottles, and represents a merging of two cultures.

He said the work was inspired by the writings of American poet William Carlos Williams, who described the culture of native Americans as a product of the landscape and viewed the European culture as being stuccoed over that.

Hasselle donated the piece; the arts council invested $12,000 to prepare the site, including paving, lighting and the construction of a concrete base, made at the Applied Technology Center.

Doster's piece, on exhibit at the arts center earlier this year, is on long-term loan to the arts council and could be purchased to benefit the council, Heintz said.

"Arches, to me, have always represented an opening, a new beginning, that sort of thing," Doster explained. "You pass through the arch as you're entering something, a new dimension in your life."

Tom Stanley, director of Winthrop University Galleries, said the local sculptures are a good start to incorporating art into downtown.

"I think it's great to have those pieces in public places," Stanley said.

"But as green spaces develop in downtown and the Textile Corridor, I hope we encourage developers and civic leaders to integrate public art into the original process, not adding it on later. And also trying to find some of the best, most qualified artists who can address them."

Stanley noted the Doster and Hasselle pieces were not designed for their sites. Heintz said they were chosen by the arts council and approved by the city.

"They happen to be art in a public space," Stanley said. "They weren't created specifically for the space, or with the community in mind."

But the Williams & Fudge project has required artists to make site-specific proposals with certain criteria in mind, he said.

Stanley believes public art can enrich our lives.

"It can be exciting, and it can add a great deal to how we perceive we live," he said. "And it has to be done for each community -- each community is different. The more input from the community, the users, the better."

Heintz said the arts council has created a selection process for future art if, for example, Doster's work were to be sold and the Elk Avenue site would be vacated.

The process would consist of a committee representing the arts council, the community and the city, she said.

The Doster and Hasselle works are just the first step in getting public art downtown, Heintz said, but there are no immediate plans for further pieces.

Doster said not everybody should be expected to react positively to each piece. He said each person will have a different take on it.

"Sometimes the viewers go, 'Oh, yuck,' they don't like it," Doster said. "And that's just part of the process . . . Each piece of art will speak to the people when they look at it. Sometimes it speaks very positively and has a very strong meaning."

But Rock Hill resident James Noah, 42, who was resting on a bench in the sun near Doster's work Tuesday afternoon, said his take on the piece is affirmative.

"I like it," Noah said, nodding. "It gives Rock Hill a little bit of culture."

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