Floral Artist Caroline Eells Brings Art and Beauty to the Harmar Bridge
Last Saturday, more than 1800 stems of forsythia were locally harvested, gathered in groups of 25, and given new life as an ephemeral public art installation suspended from the Harmar Bridge. Floral artist Caroline Eells, owner of Passiflora Studio, designed the five giant wreaths that resembled golden rings and coordinated the installation.
The idea came to Caroline initially while mountain biking through the woods.
“I was in the woods and I thought it would be really cool to do something like a giant wreath in the woods that people could enjoy while hiking,” said Eells. But after further thought, Eells liked the idea of installing such a piece on the Historic Harmar Bridge to draw attention to the bridge and help support ongoing fundraising efforts. “And I liked the idea of having it hang over the water with a reflection.”
As soon as the idea was formed, Caroline went to work mapping out her vision, recruiting volunteers, and gathering materials. The week prior to installation, Eells along with several volunteers fabricated five large hoops using rebar and u-clamps ranging from seven to twelve feet in diameter. Keeping a watchful eye, Caroline patiently waited for the forsythia to reach peak bloom.
Creating beauty is such an important aspect of my life, and being given the opportunity to bring people into the fold of creating something beautiful, and then placing it where the public can enjoy it, really fuels my passion.Caroline Eells
The stems of forsythia were then harvested locally the Friday before installation, thanks to a generous private donor and a serendipitous encounter. While driving around town looking for forsythia, Eells and volunteer Chuck Swaney spotted a house surrounded with the golden growth. Caroline knocked on the door only to find Mike McNutt, the uncle of a childhood best friend, and his wife, Brenda, on the other side.
“It’s a blessing in disguise,” said McNutt, “because I got disabled, and I used to keep them all trimmed up neat like a hedge.”
Volunteers cut stems to create twenty-five stem bundled that were then wired together. The bundles were then attached to the rebar using zip ties, and Eells estimates that they weighed between 50 and 100 lbs each.
“This is only the second time that I’ve ever created a public art installation,” said Eells. “Creating beauty is such an important aspect of my life, and being given the opportunity to bring people into the fold of creating something beautiful, and then placing it where the public can enjoy it, really fuels my passion.”
Whereas many of Marietta’s public art installations are more permanent fixtures, Caroline knew her installation would be unique in its short lifespan. The ephemerality and impermanence of the blooms is part of what makes floral art installations particularly engaging, she said.
“From the public’s perspective, it speaks to the true seasonality of this life, the fleeting moments of beauty that are all around us. From the creator’s standpoint, I appreciate the urgency of living installations,” said Eells. “It’s very compelling and exciting as an artist to be working with living material.”
We tend to think of public art as permanent murals and statues, but what makes it ‘public’ is the fact that it’s affecting people who didn’t get out of bed that morning to go see some art.Michael Bond
After a long day of harvesting, volunteers gathered near Eells’ studio in Harmar Village to assemble the wreaths and prepare them for installation. Spirits were high as members of the Marietta Main Street Public Art committee, Caroline’s friends and family members, and local residents worked together to zip tie bundles together and lift the wreaths up onto the bridge.
“It’s so great to see folks like Caroline thinking big and bold with their ideas, and how willing the community is to help make these projects a reality – the bigger and bolder, the more excited people seem to help,” said Michael Bond, a member of the Marietta Main Street Public Art Committee.
“The wreaths were always meant to be temporary – forsythia blossoms fall – and often art has a greater impact when it surprises and disappears. We tend to think of public art as permanent murals and statues, but what makes it ‘public’ is the fact that it’s affecting people who didn’t get out of bed that morning to go see some art,” said Bond. “Brightening the everyday and creating vibrant memories is just as important, and makes our town a little more magical.”
Highlighting the Harmar Bridge was important to Caroline. “It truly is the bridge between two communities, downtown Marietta and Harmar Village, and it is currently closed due to the need for repairs. I’m hoping that by using it as a canvas, we can highlight the importance and need for the bridge to re-open,” said Eells, who appreciates the historical aspect of the bridge, the beauty of its aging bones, and the significant role it has played in local history.
Caroline hopes that through this installation, the community also sees the importance of public art. “Perhaps now more than ever, we need beautiful things to look at and communities to be brought together. I hope that it brought joy to those passing by and those on the river, even for just a moment.”
Chuck has put a lot of energy and time into revitalizing the Harmar Bridge and Harmar Village, and really took the ball and ran with it when I came up with this idea.Caroline Eells
The installation was supported financially by the Marietta Main Street Public Art Committee and the Historic Harmar Bridge Company, who together funded the materials and supplies. Eells said she appreciated the support she received from both Chuck Swaney, former president of the Historic Harmar Bridge Co., and Larry Sloter, owner of the Busy Bee Restaurant and current Chair for the organization.
“Chuck has put a lot of energy and time into revitalizing the Harmar Bridge and Harmar Village, and really took the ball and ran with it when I came up with this idea,” she said. “He and Larry both care a great deal for our community and for bringing back a vibrant West Side. I’m looking forward to great things in the village because of the efforts of these two, and so many more in this West Side community.”
After several hours of hard work Saturday morning, the golden wreaths of forsythia were suspended from the bridge, reflecting off the Muskingum River. More than a dozen community members contributed to bringing Caroline’s vision to life: Chuck Swaney, Don Swaney, Olivia Schaad, Caroline’s father Jon Eells, Chris Bennon, Jeff Myers, Lori Tofaute, Andy Hall, Kodiak Dschida, Michael Bond, Jordana Bungard, Bobby Rosenstock, Hallie Taylor, Andy Hall, and of course, forsythia donors Mike and Brenda McNutt.
“I love floral installations. They’re my absolute favorite part of my work,” said Eells. “They’re challenging, and always have a lot of moving pieces to think through. Figuring out the mechanics of large installs requires a lot of troubleshooting and we spent hours trying to figure it out.”
Worth the work, Eells said it was so satisfying to see it all come together. “This was the largest installation that we’ve ever done, and knowing we can do it makes me want to come up with more new and challenging ideas!”
We watched folks out walking their dogs or going for a run, take a second to break from their daily routine to take in the sight of these giant floral wreaths hanging from the bridge.Bobby Rosenstock
Caroline said she appreciates living in a community where art is embraced and celebrated. “I love watching my friends and this community of artists create their own niches here. We have some very talented people who have made their homes here, and who are willing to share their time and talents within our creative community and within our community at large,” she said. “I appreciate the openness that the majority of our community possesses for new and exciting projects. We need to foster that openness and open up gateways for more of that.”
The plan was to keep the installation up for two days – or as long as the blooms would last – but after being up for four hours, Eells was told it had to be removed so that it did not interfere with navigation on the river.
“This is a dammed waterway, and while it is not used a great deal at the moment, nonetheless we wanted to be respectful and removed the rings.” Eells said she looks at it more as another challenge to up her game and try new ways to highlight the bridge.
Bobby Rosenstock, Chair of the Marietta Main Street Public Art Committee and fellow artist, said that it was a fun experience to work on this project.
Video produced by Andy Hall of StudioNest
“Of course, we were all a bit disappointed it had to be taken down early. But it was always intended to be a temporary installation and the real magic of the piece was about a dozen community members coming together to help Caroline put together and install her art,” said Rosenstock. “As we were creating this piece, we watched folks out walking their dogs or going for a run, take a second to break from their daily routine to take in the sight of these giant floral wreaths hanging from the bridge. In my opinion, that’s what the work was about; forcing you to pause and not only take in the art, but admire the beautiful river, our old train bridge, and the crew boats gliding across the water. A moment of reflection before continuing on with your day.”
It brought a tremendous amount of interest to the bridge which allows us to continue in our task of fundraising in efforts to reopen the Historic Harmar Bridge.Larry Sloter
“The Historic Harmar Bridge Company is excited to continue to work with Caroline on projects that will beautify and bring attention to the bridge,” said Sloter. “We enjoyed the wreath installation for its beauty and artist vision, and while short lived, it brought a tremendous amount of interest to the bridge which allows us to continue in our task of fundraising in efforts to reopen the Historic Harmar Bridge.”
At the end of the day, Caroline is grateful for the opportunity to see her art brought to life at such an impactful scale.
“The installation still served its purpose, bringing beauty to the community and bringing people together,” she said. “I see many more community-involved public art installations in my future!”
If you’d like to support the efforts to restore and revitalize the Historic Harmar Bridge, consider making a donation to the Save Harmar Bridge fund at www.saveharmarbridge.com. If you’d like to support public art projects in Marietta, consider making a donation the Marietta Main Street Public Art Committee at www.mariettamainstreet.org/public-art.
All photography by Michelle Waters