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Sculpture cast of steel, earth to honor city's textile heritage

This is a rendering of the new privately funded sculpture that will be placed in front of the renovated Cotton Factory off Dave Lyle Boulevard in downtown Rock Hill.
This is a rendering of the new privately funded sculpture that will be placed in front of the renovated Cotton Factory off Dave Lyle Boulevard in downtown Rock Hill.

Plans were unveiled Thursday for Rock Hill's highest-profile foray into public art since the Civitas statues went up on Dave Lyle Boulevard 15 years ago.

Artist Thomas Sayre of Raleigh, N.C., will create a 28-foot-tall piece to be installed at the entrance to the renovated Cotton Factory downtown. Called "Loom," the work will boast a metal tower stretching nearly three stories high, two earthcast towers and steel cables connecting each element.

Though the structure bears a resemblance to the new Arthur Ravenel Bridge in Charleston, Sayre said he designed the work with a particular vision in mind.

The elements, he said, resemble the knitting looms that once hummed inside the Cotton Factory, South Carolina's first steam-powered textile mill. After all, that's where the piece got its name.

An $11 million renovation has transformed the building into the headquarters for Williams & Fudge, the locally owned college loan collection agency.

"It's a modern, contemporary building inside, so it's not a museum," said Sayre, who beat out three other applicants for the job. "What I sensed was a desire to have a foot in the past, but also in the future."

When he announced plans to revitalize the complex last year, Williams & Fudge CEO Gary Williams said he wanted to honor the city's textile heritage with an outdoor monument or sculpture.

"Art is part of what makes the town come alive," Williams said. "We want to be part of that. We want to do something more than just the building."

The piece is considered important because the Cotton Factory, particularly the front plaza facing Dave Lyle Boulevard, serves as a gateway to the city's "Textile Corridor," where 250 acres of former mill properties await revitalization as restaurants, shops and homes.

"Loom" will take several months to build and should be ready for installation by the spring. "We hope this will set the barometer for other projects," Williams said.

No protesters this time

The fanfare that accompanied Thursday's unveiling was far different than the debut of the Civitas statues in 1992. Back then, protesters showed up with black balloons to denounce what they called an extravagant and frivolous use of some $1 million in public money. Funding came from a special tax from property in TechPark.

This time, no public money will be spent. The project's price tag -- estimated at slightly more than $100,000 -- will be covered by Williams and partners Bob Perrin and Bryan Barwick, with $25,000 chipped in by the Rock Hill Sesquicentennial Committee.

Sayre has invited art students from Winthrop University to visit his Raleigh offices next spring to help make the earth castings that will create the structures. A Web cam available at www.wfcorp.com will let viewers watch progress on the installation.

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