When art is your identity and identity is your art

Every community has some kind of identity. Many times, the identity comes from a moment in history, like my hometown being the first unofficial territorial capitol of Arizona. When I was working for a newspaper at Lake Powell, the community identified itself as the “Gateway to Canyon Country.” Of course, regular readers of this blog know the county where I currently reside in Wisconsin has a reputation for being the “Barn Quilt Capital of the World.”

For Door County, Wisconsin, it has an identity not only as a tourist destination, but also as a haven for artists of all creeds. In Egg Harbor, artists design eggs—not the kind you buy in the grocery store, but the larger-than-life sculptures. They sit on the sidewalks outside area businesses and are later auctioned off.

The county seat for Door County, Sturgeon Bay, does something similar. In previous years, artists created sturgeons from metal, wood and other stuff. However, the community recently decided to switch to benches, calling the project “Benches by the Bay.” My partner, Todd, and I strolled through Sturgeon Bay’s downtown hub and saw them up close and personal.


Numbered oars provide a subtle artistic flair to one of the benches in Sturgeon Bay. (Photo by Lee Pulaski)
A tugboat with a rope that extends from the scene is part of another bench. (Photo by Lee Pulaski)
It’ll be hard to sit down on this bench, because you won’t want to take your eyes off this sunset scene. (Photo by Lee Pulaski)

Many of them are painted with beautiful scenes, like a sunset or a boat in the harbor, but many of them harbor other surprises. In the bench with the sunset scene, there’s a Plexiglas seat showing off the sand and seashells underneath. Another one had fishing lures sealed inside the bench.



It’s a little hard to see with the condensation, but sand, rocks and seashells provide some added beauty to the bench. (Photo by Lee Pulaski)

Then there are the benches that aren’t traditionally shaped. Todd liked one particular bench set up so one person could sit facing one direction and another could face a different direction.



Which way do you want to face while you’re sitting? This bench gives you a couple of options. (Photo by Lee Pulaski)
Todd decided to sit on the side facing the camera. (Photo by Lee Pulaski)

The creativity continued with other benches. One was bookended by halves of a barrel. Another had the bench seat look like piano keys while a harp adorned the left side. The time it took to create these beauties must have been immense, and it’s a testament to how far some folks will go to help establish their community’s identity.



A wine barrel, complete with wine glasses, provide a new look for an old bench. (Photo by Lee Pulaski)
You can harp all you want about the ivories on this bench, but it’s sure to make you sing. (Photo by Lee Pulaski)

So whether you’re named after an ancient fish or have the most barn quilts or want to have the biggest cherry pie sculpture in the world, make sure your community has an identity. Then find a way to give that identity an artistic form. It’ll give your community something to look at and something to be proud of. It’ll also be a great excuse to engage visitors with the tale of how the community’s identity was established, and get some insight into how people view the community.


In Sturgeon Bay, you can even sit on the art to talk about it.


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