Looking for a fun experience to do social-distance style this fall? The Waynesville Public Art Trail fits the bill, serving up an interactive self-guided walking tour of 17 outdoor sculptures that grace the greater downtown area.
The walking tour brings to life the stories, history and cultural heritage of the public art installations in three easy-to-follow formats: a souvenir guide book, an audio tour and a mobile-friendly website WaynesvillePublicArt.org.
“People can walk down the street following the map, stop at each of the public art pieces and either read or listen to a narrative about them,” said George Kinney, chairman of the Waynesville Public Art Commission.
The art commission serves as stewards and visionaries for Waynesville’s public art collection, which has been evolving for more than two decades.
Many of the 17 pieces are local landmarks. But others seem to be hidden in plain sight. Thus the idea of corralling them under the unified banner of the Waynesville Public Art Trail.
The project aims to “make the art work more accessible for people to tour and enjoy,” Kinney said.
Assistant Town Manager Jesse Fowler plotted each piece on a map to come up with the most logical walking route to connect them. To help test it, he roped in Libba Feicther of the Waynesville Public Art Commission and a trusty local reporter.
They put on their walking shoes and did the route from start to finish. Feichter said she saw the art pieces from a whole new perspective.
“As residents, we are usually driving and just passing by them,” Feichter said. “I had never experienced that total engagement before.”
Fowler, too, learned things he didn’t know in the process — like the fact there’s three time capsules located along the art trail’s route.
To kick things up a notch, they created a scavenger hunt to accompany the trail, which can be found at the website.
“The questions are fun and interactive,” Fowler said. “They’re designed to give families another way to engage with the pieces and look around them at the setting for some of the clues.”
What’s your fave?
Pieces along the Waynesville Public Art Trail run the gamut from the ethereal Folkmoot dancer twirling flags at one end of Main Street to the stoic 1776 Militia Man at the other.
Art meets function in the hand-forged railing around the mini-park at Main and Depot streets and the embellished bench in front of the old Armory.
Some pieces are true to life, like the Plott Hound in Hazelwood or children catching tadpoles in Frog Level. Others invite interpretation, like the crazy contraption at the library entrance.
The most iconic piece on the Waynesville Public Art Trail is arguably the giant sculpture of musicians on Main Street playing a banjo and wash-tub base, called Old-Time Music.
“People can walk up to it and touch it, children can climb on it, and it is representative of the kind of atmosphere Waynesville has and the local culture,” Feichter said.
The sculpture has even been chronicled by the Smithsonian in its digital folk art collection.
Paying homage to cultural heritage is one thing the pieces have in common. With one outlier: the head-scratching jellyfish floating in mid-air on Main Street.
That particular piece predates the Waynesville Public Art Commission to the earliest inception of public art installations around town. In 1999, a downtown streetscape initiative was launched to display rotating works on loan from artists.
There were no funds available to secure the pieces, however, and they were changed out each year. Only three still remain in the public realm — one of them being the jellyfish.
When the Waynesville Public Art Commission was formed in 2008 to pursue a permanent and lasting collection of public art, it inherited the jellyfish.
“We’ve taken it creatively as an extension of the Mountains to Sea Trail that comes through this area, by representing the far end of that trail,” Kinney said.
The guide book and website, which were developed in partnership with The Mountaineer, give locals a new way to explore their own town. But they’re also an outlet for tourists to connect with the place they’re visiting.
Cultural heritage tourism has been on the rise in recent years, as tourists increasingly seek out destinations with a unique sense of place.
The website for the Waynesville Public Art Trail was partially funded by a grant from the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority.
It not only showcases an immersive activity awaiting potential visitors, but also features other arts and culture highlights in the community — from HART theater and the Shelton House to Art After Dark and the Haywood Arts Council — all of which make Waynesville an appealing arts destination.
“We hope as tourists are looking at visiting the town, it will help make it more attractive,” Kinney said.