For years Lewes has been known for its gardens, its historic homes and its quaint atmosphere.
Several groups want to add another civic attribute: Public art.
Kinetic sculptures, murals and upcoming mosaics are the start of what the Lewes Public Arts and the Lewes Art in Bloom commissions hope to achieve.
“We want to elevate and educate,” said Cliff Diver, director of the Lewes Public Art commission.
It recently funded a mural along the bike trail between the Lewes Public Library and the city water tower. The commission’s mission is to integrate a wide range of quality art with public spaces in and around the City of Lewes. In short, they wan to get people talking.
“If people don’t like it and still find it interesting, it still succeeds,” said Diver.
The other group also wants conversation, but their mission is slightly different.
“Our mission is to enhance the beauty and culture of public spaces,” said Jane Ellan Golde, chair of the Art in Bloom group that commissioned two pieces: “Silent Sentinels” in 2018 and a mural on the side of a hotel in 2019.
The sentinels are three kinetic wind sculptures on the library property at the beginning of the bike trail there. The mural is a three-story high homage to the menhaden fishing industry that dominated the Lewes economy for years.
“I think it adds a lot,” said Ann Marie Townshend, Lewes city manager. “The menhaden mural is a beautiful piece of art but also a documentary of our history.”
The most recent addition to the public art scene in Lewes is a black and white mural painted over the Labor Day weekend on the 28-by-48-foot back of one of the city buildings that faces the bike trail.
“It reflects the spirit of Lewes,” said Diver.
The painting is a collage of images that intertwine, showing scenes and impressions of the city. Diver pointed out that instead of drawing a picture of one of the local ice cream shops, the artist showed people eating ice cream. Instead of a picture of the chamber of commerce building, he painted kites to represent the annual kite festival.
“They both have stirred up a good deal of conversation,” said Lewes Mayor Ted Becker of the two groups, and they compliment each other, he said.
The art has stirred conversation, some positive, some not so much. One woman described the black and white mural as “Keith Haring meets Where’s Waldo,” and some people wondered if public money went for some of the works. Most of the funding for the different projects was raised through public donations. Both groups fundraise for each project.
The Art in Bloom group has a master plan to create a walking trail of art throughout the city that coincides with the Lewes in Bloom gardens. The trail would also encourage people to walk through the business district of the town.
“Beautification can increase sales for merchandise,” said Golde. “Much of public art is conceived to help the economics of the town.”
COVID-19 has affected projects for both groups. Art in Bloom has commissioned a mosaic mural of glass tiles highlighting local marine life. They are waiting for the state of emergency to be lifted to install the pieces on the bridge over the canal in town.
The Public Art commission had to cancel an exhibition of Tom Fruin’s Watertower #7, a colorful three-dimensional depiction of a water tower. They are hoping to get it back on schedule for summer 2021.
In the meantime, though, the two groups are busy working on the next idea.
“There are many possibilities for the future,” said Golde.
The mayor and residents of Lewes are looking forward to seeing what is next.
“I think public art is a natural fit for this town,” said Becker. “It encourages more public engagement.”