New Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Terminal is State-of-the-Arts

PITTSTON TWP. -- Anchored to a concrete base, Herbert Simon's sculpture "Aloft" stands atop the steps of the walkway leading to the tunnel entrance of the new terminal building at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.

The anodized aluminum creation is the first of five commissioned works to be displayed. The airport budgeted approximately $300,000 for the artwork for the terminal.

Two other local artists are working to meet the end-of-March completion date for the $35 million project.

Simon and the others see their work as small details of the bigger project and an affirmation that the community shares the same values as other places where art is given public prominence.

"Now almost everywhere you go in this country you?re seeing sculptures," said Simon, of Shavertown. Locally, his work appears at Coal Street Park and Wilkes University.

He is pleased his sculpture is included in the terminal construction project. In the past, railroad terminals were magnificently designed and constructed buildings. Simon cited the former Delaware, Lackawanna &Western station in Scranton and the Cleveland Union Terminal.

"That's how important they felt their railroad was," Simon said. "The airport takes on a similar role."

The airport asked artists to submit proposals. Approximately 20 people responded and that group was whittled down to eight. The final three were selected last year, said David Gilmore of Highland Associates in Clarks Summit. The engineering and design firm is working on the terminal project.

Besides Simon, also selected were Hank Fells of the Lake Winola area, and Dalton area painter William Chickillo. Fells was commissioned to create a sculpture for the wall above the escalators at the terminal entrance, a mobile to be hung from the skylight in the main lobby and artwork in the terrazzo floor. Chickillo is working on a "huge oil" painting for the boardroom, Gilmore said.

"Everybody is going to have their own opinion" about the artwork and its validity, he said.

Initially the budget for the art was $120,000. "'We threw that number out early," said airport director Barry Centini. The cost increased with additional work such as the terrazzo floor piece.

Centini could not immediately provide a breakdown of the costs and the commissions paid to the artists, saying he would need to contact them.

The Harrisburg International Airport budgeted $600,000 for art in its new $108 million terminal that opened in August 2004, said Fred Testa, aviation director.

The artwork was part of the original contract with the architect. Artist Charles Madden of Philadelphia created a huge mural for the floor featuring people and places with historic and geographic significance to the area.

"Each airport tries to reflect their own uniqueness," Testa said.

Enjoying fruit of their labor

Whether people are paying attention to his sculpture, Simon could not say. He has not had much feedback from the abstract work made of square and round tubing.

The walkway is not open to the public. But "Aloft" can be seen from the parking lot, parking garage and garage elevator.

Some people might just pass by and not even notice it, he said. Others might want to take a gaze from near and far, in front and behind, and from the ground and above to experience the parallax view. As the viewer's position changes, he said, so does the appearance of the work made to look as if "the upper part is being lifted aloft by the lower part."

The work took months to complete from design by Simon to fabrication by Hanover Ornamental Iron Works in Dallas.

Still in the works is Chickillo's oil on linen painting of the Susquehanna River. It's been months in the making and will take a couple more to complete the piece measuring approximately 52 inches by 70 inches. "It's a living thing, just like the river," he said.

Chickillo chose a section of the river from Campbell's Ledge to the bend downstream in Pittston and spent time flying over the area in an airplane to get the best perspective.

"I'm using the river as a metaphor," Chickillo said. The region's history and people are tied to the river. It can be a powerful, devastating force when it floods, he explained. It also has a tranquil quality to it that is captured in the way the light shines in the area of his focus.

The painting will be the least visible of the works. It was specifically commissioned for the boardroom. When not used for meetings, the room will be locked, Centini said.

An artist is always looking for a place for his art. Even with the limited use of the boardroom the work will still be seen, Chickillo said.

Fells has work to do on his three pieces and limited his descriptions of them, saying he wanted the public to see them first in place. He declined to allow photographs to be taken of the artwork.

The sculpture is an "abstract, colorful one," approximately 15 feet by 8 feet and made of metal, plywood and other media. The yet-to-be titled piece is constructed in a way to give the feeling of "traveling from the earth up to the sky," Fells said.

The mobile is steel and stainless steel, he added.

Opening up a little more, Fells teased that the terrazzo floor piece is a "whirling compass," with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton airport logo in it.

Fells envisions a give-and-take dynamic between the travelers and the artwork. The pieces provide something to reflect on "as opposed to getting sold something," he said. "I think it's a nice break from the commercialism."

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