Are there fish in Lick Creek?
That was the question on artist Jeannie Tomlinson Saltmarsh's mind when she was inspired to design a school of fish for the V&E Greenline, a converted "rails to trails" path that runs from Watkins to Rhodes College in Midtown.
Saltmarsh's fish sculptures won the popular vote at MemFEAST, a Crosstown Arts-sponsored dinner at which patrons vote on public art project proposals, on May 18th. She was awarded $5,000, collected from patrons' MemFEAST ticket fees and corporate sponsorships, to install five to seven fish near the Lick Creek bridge.
"I was walking down the greenline and over the bridge one day. I looked into the creek and wondered if there are actually fish in there," said Saltmarsh, who works in the metal foundry at the National Ornamental Metal Museum.
Saltmarsh did some research and learned that Lick Creek is home to all sorts of wildlife, but gambusia fish, also known as mosquito fish, are extremely prevalent. The mosquito-eating fish have been handed out by the county health department and other organizations over the years as a way to combat the West Nile virus.
She drew some renderings for a school of fish positioned on metal poles that stick 12 to 15 feet in the air. Saltmarsh's idea was chosen as a finalist for MemFEAST, which stands for "Funding Emerging Artists with Sustainable Tactics," and she presented her idea to patrons at the annual event, which was held on the V&E Greenline this year.
Her project beat out proposals by four other artists, including plans for a rainbow arch at the west entrance to the greenline, a plan for metal arches throughout the greenline, nature-themed wraps for MLGW's well houses along the trail, and an interactive musical sculpture.
The fish will be made from a 14-gauge steel sheet sliced with a plasma cutter. The fins and tail will be textured, and the fish will be painted a natural color.
"They will be positioned on weather-vane mechanisms, similar to skateboard wheel bearings. The tails are big, and they'll catch the wind. If the wind hits them all at the same time and with the same force, they will move together like a school of fish," Saltmarsh said.
She's hoping the sculptures will inspire people to take better care of Lick Creek. And Crosstown Arts co-founder Chris Miner said the project has already caused him to take a second look at the creek.
"Her project concept inspired me and my 3-and-a-half year old son to walk to the bridge and look for fish in Lick Creek, which we did not realize were there until we heard her pitch. There were tons of them under the bridge. I was as surprised and excited as my kid," Miner said.
There's no timeline yet for when the sculptures will be installed. Additionally, Saltmarsh has taken over repairs to the "Big Kids" sculptures on the western end of the V&E Greenline. The large, cartoon-like, blue sculptures were installed there by a Rhodes College public art class a couple of years ago, but they've suffered some weathering and vandalism. Saltmarsh expects to have that project complete by the end of June.