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Artist aims to infuse Columbia’s character into City Hall artwork

Wednesday, September 19, 2007 | 9:34 p.m. CDT; updated 10:34 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008
"Balance" by Howard Meehan, located at the Health and Science Center in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo courtesy of Howard Meehan.

COLUMBIA — The man selected to create Columbia’s next major piece of public art makes his home almost 800 miles away, in New Mexico’s high-altitude terrain of pines and turquoise sky.

Howard Meehan, 65, has worked there for years, but once the time comes to design a new outdoor project, he leaves the studio in search of the new project’s home and history. Sometime this month or next that will bring him to mid-Missouri.

Percent for Art Projects in Columbia:

Title: “Leap In To” (1999) Artist: Mark La Mair Location: Oakland Family Aquatic Center, 1900 Blue Ridge Road Title: “Rolling Ahead” (1999) Artist: Ron Fondaw Location: Eighth and Cherry Parking Garage, Eighth and Cherry streets Title: “Network” (2001) Artist: Susan Taylor Glasgow Location: Fire Station No. 8, Nifong Boulevard and Bearfield Road Title: “Taking the Plunge” (2002) Artist: Norman Courtney Location: Activity and Recreation Center, Clinkscales Road and Ash Street Title: “Art of Memory” (2004) Artist: Hugh Merrill Location: Sanford Kimpton Building, 1005 W. Worley St. Title: “Look Out Point” (2005) Artist: Carol Fleming Location: Stephens Lake Park, East Broadway and Old 63 Title: Wabash Station (2006) Artists: Don Asbee and David Spear Location: 126 N. Tenth St.

Work by Howard Meehan:

Title: “Fire and Ice” (1996) Location: Grants, N.M. In brief: Taking inspiration from the geographical formations in the area, this piece serves to connect Grants’ past to its present. Title: “Spirit” (1997) Location: Eugene, Ore. In brief: In a celebration of sports, this piece unites mind, body, and spirit at the University of Oregon. Title: “Newton’s Corner” (2002) Location: Fort Collins, Colo. In brief: Situated on Colorado State University’s campus, Meehan uses moving steel orbs to represent Sir Isaac Newton’s laws on both kinetic energy and gravity. Title: “Balance” (2003) Location: Gainesville, Fla. In brief: This monument signifies the importance of having our bodies in balance. Wind pushes the orb into motion just as how the human body is constantly in motion trying to find its balance. Title: “Sleuth” (2003) Location: Albuquerque, N.M. In brief: An enormous magnifying glass represents the detective nature of the work that takes place in the forensic science offices it decorates. Title: Gallup Courthouse Plaza (2006) Location: Gallup, N.M. In brief: Meehan’s “Sun Daggers” in the middle of the plaza pay tribute to the Native Americans when they cut the rays of the sun as it rises and sets. For more, go to hkmeehan.com

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Out of 139 applicants, Meehan was picked to design and oversee creation of art that will be part of renovations to City Hall, in the 700 block of East Broadway. His recommendation by the city’s Standing Committee on Public Art was forwarded to the City Council, which unanimously approved the selection on Monday.

Meehan said he applied for Columbia’s project because he has long been curious about “Daniel Boone country.” He likes to have his works generated around the history of the area in which they will be built. After visiting the city during the interview process and seeing MU’s Columns, Meehan knew the community was right for his style because it had preserved an iconic piece of its history.

Although completion of Meehan’s piece is slated for October 2009, the entire $23 million City Hall renovation will not be done until the fall of 2010, Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said.

Decisions about what Meehan’s piece will look like, or where it will be, will be made later.

“At this junction, it’s all about fact-finding and research for public acceptance,” Meehan said. “I want the public to feel ownership.”

To accomplish this, he plans to hop on his bike and ride around town trying to get a true sense of what Columbia is about. His discussions will begin with city leaders and historical societies, and then Meehan will talk to any interested resident for additional input.

“I don’t have a preconceived medium,” said Meehan, who usually waits until he talks with people before he starts designing. “It’s important that the public can identify with it.”

Once he has an idea in mind, he will return to his one-man studio near Cochiti Lake, N.M., and begin sketching ideas on paper napkins.

“If it looks good on napkins, it looks good on a big scale,” he said.

From there he will scan the drawings into a computer and make more descriptive models before sending the designs away for production, which takes place outside of his studio, usually in Columbus, Ohio.

Originally from New York, Meehan attended Hofstra University before serving in the military. Upon his return, he received his degree in industrial design from the Arts Center College of Design in Los Angeles. From there, Meehan traveled the globe working for Fortune 500 companies as a designer before eventually switching to public art design about 20 years ago.

Right now, he’s working on “A Gateway to Glendale” in Phoenix, which must be completed in time for the next Super Bowl. The project is a plaza that will encompass an entire street. Meehan said he designed every aspect of the piece, right down to the landscaping. The site will provide historical information about the area as well as incorporate two historic buildings.

In a number of projects he has used steel. For example, “Fire and Ice” in Grants, N.M., incorporates steel, fire and glass. Another, “Sullivant Plaza” in Columbus, Ohio, incorporates pieces of hand-carved stone like that found on the Cumberland Trail, artifacts from previous buildings on the site and a stainless steel circular sculpture.

Money for Meehan’s project will come primarily from Columbia’s Percent for Art program, which allots about 1 percent of the cost of certain city projects for public art.

Marie Nau Hunter of the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs said $212,752 will go toward all new art for City Hall, including $115,000 to Meehan. Of the rest, $50,000 will go toward local artists for their work to be placed inside City Hall. The remainder will be used for general upkeep of all the art, Hunter said.

Meehan will be paid $200,000, which includes the design, installation and insurance.

The $85,000 difference will be raised privately, Hunter said.

Founded in May 1997, the Percent for Art program kicks into play when projects cost more than $1 million. To be considered, the project must also be an above-ground capital improvement for the city. The City Council has the final say.

Meehan is the ninth artist selected by the program, and Hunter stressed that more commissions are likely.

“It’s not just an art program,” she said. “It’s something about the public good, public pride, quality of life and economic development.”

Missourian reporter Mary Elise DeCoursey contributed to this article.


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