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Goodale Park Fountain to be Installed This Winter

Walker Evans Walker Evans
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A project nearly seven years in the making will come to a close next spring as the Goodale Park Fountain comes to life in the middle of the park’s pond. We recently sat down with local sculptor Malcolm Cochran, the artist who designed the fountain, to learn more.

Walker Evans: It sounds like this has been a pretty long process since first initiated. Can you give us a bit of the history behind the project?

Malcolm Cochran: There was a call for artists in the summer of 2004 and it was the kind of competition where people were selected on the basis of previous work. I think there were four artists selected to do proposals including myself.

WE: This was through the Friends of Goodale Park?

MC: Yes, Friends of Goodale Park partnering with Brick Street Art Association, because Friends of Goodale Park didn’t have the experience of working on any kind of public art project and Brick Street had some experience, although it was young organization.

So, I was selected and made my proposal and those were presented to the selection committee which included people like Rob Livesey, who at the time was head of the Architecture School at OSU, Sherrie Riley Hawk from the Sherrie Gallery, and other people from the neighborhood. That group selected my proposal.

Without going into a lot of detail, the form was to be built out of granite and my concept had to do with a waterfall rather than having a fountain. In some part I was thinking about how falls are a little more of a naturalized condition, and that’s what the park is.

With all of my projects I do a lot of historic research to try to figure out something about the site that isn’t visible on the surface. Since I’ve lived here for over 20 years I know the park pretty well, but I didn’t know much about the history. I found out that since the very early days of the park there had been some kind of vertical rock structure. This no longer exists as it was removed a long time ago, but I do remember another one that was removed in 1995, which was sort of a conical beehive-shape of rocks with a pump and a spout coming out of the top.

During the summer it wasn’t all that interesting, but during the winter it made these phenomenal ice forms because it continued to run all winter (pictured to the right). It was taken down in 1995 basically because the rockwork fell apart. Part of getting this new fountain project going was to replace that older rockwork piece.

I took my gut interest in doing a falls and that fit into the “Tete-a-Tete” falls concept. The other important thing that fed into it historically is that Goodale Park is one of the earliest naturalized parks. Prior to parks we had town squares which were very geometric, but Goodale was laid out with all of these curves so I thought that the piece needed to be something that has no front or back or sides, but something that could be viewed “in the round”. I wanted it to be something that is interesting from all angles.

WE: The Tete-a-Tete design was completely scrapped though, right?

MC: Right. In January of 2009, the Friends of Goodale Park came to me and said that it wouldn’t be possible to raise enough money for the project. I told them that we couldn’t put the design on a diet because it would be like designing a Victorian House and then deciding you had to cut it in half a make a Victorian Ranch. That just wouldn’t work. So I said that I’d like to continue to work with them if we could start from scratch, so we agreed on that. We held onto a few things from the first design such as the decision to use granite for durability. We also held onto the vertical structure and the idea of making this something viewable “in the round”.

WE: Otherwise, back to the drawing board?

MC: Yes, I went back and thought again about what I didn’t pay attention to in the history of the area the first time. I learned more about the Circus House on the corner by the park, and there happened to also be a show about the Sells Brothers Circus at the Columbus Historical Society last summer. I found out that the Sells Brothers Circus was well known for its elephant acts. One of the big expenses of the previous design was the pump because it required a large volume of water. It would have been beautiful, but it was a big pump and a vault so one of the goals of the second design was to reduce the amount of water needed. I began thinking about the new form and looked at tiered cakes, because I thought about what sort of images I could find with proportioned stacked cylinders… and essentially, that’s what the tiered cake is. Because we’re being cost conscious, keeping the heights of the cylinders consistent would simplify the construction process.

Then, I got the idea of putting it all on a “platter”. For me that was a big breakthrough. I think people won’t always notice it, but it will be key to the piece. If the platter is above the water level by about six inches, then there’s going to be a shadow cast and that shadow will make the piece appear to float instead of pushing up through the water like an island. You know those cup and saucer rides at the fair where you get that fluid motion above a surface… I really like the idea of this fountain feeling light even though it’s made of granite.

During the process, a friend sent me a page from a book of Cincinnati fountains. A lot of fountains have animals in them… dolphins, ducks, turtles, snakes… and I thought, you know, none of those animals spit water. You often see fish in fountains squirting water, but fish don’t squirt water. Since elephants do squirt water it would be a wonderful nod to a more historic fountain that also makes some logical sense.

WE: When the new design was first brought up on Columbus Underground, it seemed that a lot of the criticism focused on the cake-like shape. Does that concern you at all?

MC: The shape certainly can be read as a cake, but I don’t want it to be read as any one thing. I think that’s a really important part of the design. It’s not a tribute to the circus, it’s not a cake, it’s all of these things, it’s a vertical rock structure, it’s a falls, it’s a spray, it’s a nod to historic fountains… it’s all of those qualities combined and yet it is it’s own thing.

WE: Do you think it will be difficult for the average passerby to get all of the historic elements without having access to that information?

MC: I’d say that almost all of my work is made up of recognizable forms. I think they can be appreciated as the form itself and they can also be appreciated metaphorically with some thought and investigation. One of the things that I hope my work does, and certainly the Field of Corn in Dublin has done, is that they provide a window into something about the site. It’s important for me that the work is site reponsive and site specific. If someone says “I wonder why there are elephants on there” or “I wonder why there is a vertical rock structure instead of just a spray fountain” and is willing to do some research, they’re going to find that out. All of that stuff is available at the library or online. My hope is that there is a delight in viewing the fountain by itself. We worked hard on the scale to make sure that it’s something that will be memorable without being overly monumental. It’s tricky because the fountain will be 75 feet out into the water so no one will be standing right next to it for scale.

MC: One other thing I want to mention is that when I was asked to do a new design, I said that I thought it would be important to identify a steering committee from the Friends of Goodale Park that would include some members of the board and a few other people from the community. So we met frequently, I showed them the initial design, and had a lot of discussion back and forth. It wasn’t like I delivered this fully formed fountain with no interest in changing anything. There was a lot of back and forth during the process.

WE: So what’s the current timeline on the project?

MC: The granite has been delivered and unloaded. There’s a final summer wedding in the Goodale Park Gazebo on the Second of October, so we’re going to do a “Pulling the Plug” event and have a mock-up bathtub plug for the pond and start draining it on Sunday, October 3rd. It’ll probably take a few weeks to dry out. The City of Columbus is putting out a contract to drain the pond and clean it out and move the fish. The pond as has a clay liner that will be pushed aside where they need to work. They’ll keep working as long as the weather holds out. If we have a warm December it could be done by then, otherwise it will be finished off in the Spring.

WE: So either way the fountain will operation next summer?

MC: It’s conceivable that it could even be operational this winter but I don’t want to promise that. It should definitely be going by March or April. I’m working on modeling one of the elephants right now. They will be made out of cast bronze, cast by a foundry in Cincinnati. They’ll look like something in between a natural animal form and a character like Dumbo.

WE: I understand that you have a fundraiser event coming up on Thursday?

MC: There are actually three fundraisers coming up. The first one is at Park Street Cantina on August 26th from 5:30pm to 8pm. Cantina owner Chris Corso is making a contribution drink special for our event: for people who want to attend, $10 will get you a pitcher of margaritas and the full $10 goes toward the fountain. There will also be door prizes and a raffle for the chance to be one of the people who helps pull the plug on the pond on October 3rd. It will be hosted by Marshall McPeek from NBC4.

More information on this event can be found by clicking here.

MC: The second fundraiser we don’t have a date for yet, but it will be at the new Downtown Spinelli’s Deli sometime mid-September.

Then the third is the Pull-The-Plug event on October 3rd which will probably be in the early afternoon on that Sunday.

The Friends of Goodale Park have had a great fundraising campaign this summer from residents around the park and raised $33,000 so far this year. There’s still around $60,000 left to raise on the project.

The fundraising aspect is an unusual situation for me, because I’m normally not involved in fundraising. Artists usually aren’t for public projects. But this has been my neighborhood for 23 years and I said that I would donate my time for these events, so I’m helping to put the word out there.

WE: Thanks again Malcolm for taking the time today to share some background on this project with us.

MC: My pleasure.

For more information or to donate online, visit: FriendsOfGoodalePark.org.

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