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Never Built Columbus: Serpent Mound Canopy

Brent Warren Brent Warren Never Built Columbus: Serpent Mound Canopy
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For the first installment of our Never Built Columbus series, we looked back at some of the grand (and not-so-grand) ideas for the Scioto Peninsula. For our next installment, we are zooming in for a close-up look at the bridge that connects the peninsula to downtown.

In 1995, Columbus artist Todd Slaughter’s proposal to place a giant snake made out of blue glass on top of the Broad Street Bridge was front page news.

Although the concept, inspired by the Great Serpent Mound in Adams County, was one of two ideas chosen as finalists by a jury, it received much more attention than the other entry (a series of bronze globes by New York sculptor Tom Otherness), and continues to live on in the memories of many who called Columbus home in the mid-1990’s.

Slaughter and Otherness both received funding to build detailed scale models of their proposals.

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Nancy Recchie, who was hired by the Greater Columbus Arts Council to coordinate the selection of artwork for the bridge, recently shared some thoughts about the proposal, 20-plus years after it was nixed by then-Franklin County Engineer John Circle.

“I think Todd is a thoughtful and exceptionally talented artist, and I thought his proposal would have been wonderful if it had been executed,” she said. “The riverfront has changed dramatically since that time, so I am not sure how it would work in an urban context now, (but) I do think passing on art on the Broad Street Bridge was a missed opportunity.”

Slaughter, a professor in OSU’s Department of Art who has completed many public art pieces over the course of a career spanning decades – including Watch House in Dublin, and Vanitas, which hangs from the ceiling of the downtown library – still doesn’t buy Circle’s explanation for why he killed the project.

“The reason given at the time the artwork was sidetracked was safety concerns,” said Slaughter, “but the engineers involved in the proposal felt there was nothing unsafe about it. In truth, that first stage of design could have gone many different ways thereafter, and any safety concerns would have come later in the process anyway.”

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Unlike the unrealized plans we highlighted for the Scioto Peninsula – where a new urban neighborhood is now planned and could start to take shape as soon as next year – the Serpent Mound Canopy is an idea that could still theoretically be built.

The bridge, which was completed in 1990, still has two wide concrete columns at each entrance – originally included in the design to support public art of some sort – as well as the bump-outs along either side that would have held additional support columns for the big blue snake.

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Slaughter said that from a technical standpoint, the project would actually be easier to pull off today; “I do think the canopy would be easier and cheaper now because of advancements in glass technology and availability.”

Recchie thinks it would be interesting to see the reaction today to the proposal, both from the public and from the powers that be in Columbus.

“I remember a headline in one of the alternative newspapers at the time; ‘Too Cool for Columbus,'” she said. “I wonder what the response would be today.”

 All visuals provided by Todd Slaughter.

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