Petaluma’s River Arch is rising, the latest public art project from local artist David Best

Petaluma’s River Arch is rising, the latest public art project from local artist David Best

After five years of work, countless meetings, thousands of hours of design and construction — plus a few delays caused by the pandemic — Petaluma artist David Best unveiled his latest sculpture, River Arch.

The 25-foot steel sculpture was welcomed Saturday by more than 100 public art fans at a packed ceremony on a wild and small patch of land where Petaluma’s Lynch Creek Trail meets Lakeville Highway.

A somewhat fantastical fusion of sweeping curves, sharp points and swirling curls of metal, measuring slightly taller than a full-grown giraffe – or George Washington’s nose on Mount Rushmore – and gently coated in the russet color of deep rust, River Arch rises impressively new. buried cement foundations along the Petaluma River. There, the structure will stand as a dramatic entrance to either downtown Petaluma or the main stretch of Lynch Creek Trail, depending on which way pedestrians and bicyclists are headed as they pass beneath it.

River Arch is a commission of the Petaluma Public Art Committee, charged with spending the money in Petaluma’s Public Art Fund – collected through a city ordinance that requires developers to contribute 1% of the cost of new city developments. The committee chose Best to create a public art piece somewhere in Petaluma with a budget of $75,000.

The event Saturday, which culminated in a ribbon cutting and the joyous crowd moving back and forth under the arch, doesn’t quite mark the completion of the project. It still awaits the landscaping component, overseen by Petaluma’s Sandra Reed, plus the installation of lights, details that will be completed at an unspecified time in the future.

The ceremony was attended by members of the Public Art Committee, along with Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett, several of the metalworkers from Van Bebber Brothers Steel Fabrication who worked on the creation of the arch and Best, world-renowned for his massive temple structures, especially those that have been set up and set on fire at previous Burning Man events.

Melissa Abercrombie, Chair of the Public Art Committee, opened the event by telling the story of how River Arch came to be.

In June 2017, the Petaluma Public Art Committee commissioned Best to design an outdoor sculpture. A subcommittee was formed to explore possible sites that meet the bylaw’s requirements to be publicly owned and publicly accessible. According to Abercrombie, more than a dozen locations were scouted one by one, and the last one on the list was the one chosen best.

“You can see why David fell in love with this site,” Abercrombie said. “The space is wide open and a little wild. It’s an industrial space with the river below and the sky above – and a lot of breathing space for a piece of this scale.”

At the time of the River Arch Commission, as Abercrombie explained, Best told the committee that he had several major projects already in the works, including the transformation of the reception hall at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, and the building of a memorial. temple for the Parkland High School shooting victims in Florida. These projects will take more than a year to complete.

In 2018, during a presentation to the Petaluma City Council, Best outlined his initial sketches for River Arch, but approval of the project didn’t find its way onto the City Council’s agenda until September 2018. Once the contract was signed, two community meetings were held on site in January 2019.

“Then the hard work began,” Abercrombie said, “refining the design, working with an architect as a structural engineer, a landscape designer, doing soil studies, calculating the concrete for the footing, the draft of permits and the line of steel needed to make the arch. Unfortunately, it was all coming to an end in March 2020. COVID struck and it brought the world to a standstill.”

It wasn’t until the fall of 2021 that Best was able to work on River Arch again, after which the Van Bebber family offered ample space and support.

“In River Arch, David Best and his creative community have given us a transformative gift,” concluded Abercrombie. “Where the past few years have forced us to be separate and celebrate less, this piece invites you to go through it with renewed optimism for the future.”

Before cutting the appropriately decorated yellow ribbon emblazoned with the words “River Arch,” Best gave a few brief words, thanking the people of Petaluma and the Public Art Committee before making a proposal about how future public art projects in Petaluma can be exported.

“The unique thing about Petaluma is that there are a whole lot of artists here,” he said. “And Petaluma High School has the most incredible art and metal art. I would like to suggest to the Arts Council that if they are going to give another artist a grant, I would say that they should have a student from Petaluma High School work with them as an apprentice.

“If you do an art project in this town, I strongly recommend that some young artists from this community get the opportunity to participate and learn from it.”

Best was equally generous in his praise of the Van Bebber family.

“When I took on this piece, one of the requirements I had in myself was that it should represent our community,” he said. “I didn’t want to work with someone in our community. Well, it turned out that I ended up working with 35 people at Van Bebber, a company that is a huge part of Petaluma’s history. Yes, I physically built some of this piece, but it was the people of our community who made this arch.”

After indulgently basking in a round of applause, Best concluded, “It’s been a labor of love. It’s about family. Van Bebber is a family. Petaluma is a family. It’s been an honor.”


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