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Arts and Entertainment

Canton installs the first of "The Eleven"
The Pro Football Hall of Fame picked the moments; Arts in Stark picked the art

Web Editor
M.L. Schultze
Click for slideshow: Canton City Hall is framed by the "Birth of the NFL," the first of 11 public art projects theme around the 11 greatest moments of the NFL.
Courtesy of M.L. SCHULTZE
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When the Pro Football Hall of Fame parade steps off in downtown Canton Saturday morning, the floats, balloons and bands will be marching past a 23-foot configuration of I-beams, stainless steel and glass. It’s the first piece of a $2.2 million public art project – marrying Canton’s pro football identity with its growing arts community. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze was there for this morning’s  installation.

LISTEN: Art and football marry in Canton

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John Grant’s a project manager, and his job description is simple: “Kind of turnkey, get-it-done sort of guy.”

‘Getting it done’ in this case means planting 2 tons of weathered, rust-colored steel beams through the sidewalk – extending into a foundation well below -- then easing the centerpiece of the artwork onto that steel pedestal.

"We need to do a little dance in the air with a crane to get it orientated in a way that we can drop it now onto the top of that, kind of like the star on the top of a Christmas tree," he explains as he looks up at the crane.

The ‘star’ he's talking about placing is actually four massive stainless struts curving into the abstract shape of a football, with the letters of the NFL inside the cocoon. Then come the dichroic glass and internal and external lighting.

Other wordly
One box of that glass made the 14-hour trip from Denver to Canton on the seat in Steve Best’s truck cab, while the rest rode on the 40-foot flatbed trailer behind. Best says he got some looks along the way.

“They’re going like, ‘What is that?’ as we’re driving down the road. I’m sure people thought it was some kind of satellite or something, some kind of space thing.”

And in white shrink-wrap, it does look a bit like that. But when the wrapping comes off, it looks a lot more like the plans that Akron native and Denver artist Michael Clapper submitted a year ago. That’s when he was competing for the commission to create the first of 11 pieces -- selected by Arts In Stark -- to commemorate pro football’s greatest moments – as selected by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Change is a constant in public art
Clapper says his work did undergo some changes over the past year, and he expected that.

“Every time you do a public art project, there are concerns of the committee for safety and things like that, so it’s typical for the design to change a little.” 

In this case, the biggest change is the pedestal itself. Clapper’s original design called for his spheroid to sit on the ground. The concern there was  “people could kid of climb up on it, get up in. And as my project manager John Grant always says, you have to think about the unsupervised 14-year-old boys.”

But Clapper says he also embraced the change as an artist – and a proud native of the rust belt.

“Of course, it’s formed out of I-beams, as a nod to the steel industry in Canton, Ohio, an industry that made Canton what it is today.”

Birth and birthplace of the NFL
Cut into those beams are the names of the Cleveland Indians, Dayton Triangles, Canton Bulldogs and seven other teams. That’s because, just a few feet away from Clapper’s “Birth of the NFL” artwork is the spot where Ralph Hay’s Hupmobile dealership stood, and the place where the representatives of those 10 teams – including Jim Thorpe -- met on Sept. 17, 1920 and created the National Football League.

Arts in Stark Director Robb Hankins says the goal is to have all 11 pieces of the project in place by the NFL’s 100th anniversary in 2020. The next two pieces will be sculptures, likely marking the beginning of the NFL draft in 1936 and Pete Rozelle becoming the NFL commissioner who arguably made pro football America’s pastime.

“Then we’re going to do a national call for a giant mural on the reintegration of football. And if I had my fantasy, it’s going to go on that parking deck up the street. And then we’re going to start working on the other moments. We’re trying to make all 11 pieces within walking distance and so in our minds, with the couch-potato mentality that exists, that’s probably no more than 15 blocks, maybe 10.”

Hankins says about half of the more than $2 million needed for the project has been committed. And he expects the lit sphere jutting into the night across from Canton’s City Hall will go a ways toward raising the rest.  

(Click image for larger view.)

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