06 Mar Utility Box Art (Wildlife theme) at North Mountain Park
Theme: Sustainability, Wildlife, Environment.
Artist: Ann DiSalvo.
Painting completed August 2015.
Photo essay published March 2023.
After you read my photo essay, I hope you will go see these three colorful painted utility boxes that show wildlife art at North Mountain Park. They don’t have a formal name, but the artist came up with “Wildlife Profiles.”
Lots of new art in North Mountain Park
North Mountain Park had installed new artworks in three consecutive years: Compass Rose mosaic in 2011, Elders Tales metal art in 2012 and Recology Mosaic in 2013. What would be next?
Why PAC turned to Ann DiSalvo
The group of three utility boxes near Recology Mosaic beckoned, saying (if you can hear utility boxes talk) “We want to be colorful too.” The Nature Center staff did hear them, so Parks Department brought the idea to the Public Arts Commission (PAC) in mid-2014. PAC put out a call for designs that featured a theme of sustainability. Several designs were submitted, but the commissioners were not satisfied with the artistic excellence of any of them. They decided to turn to local artist Ann DiSalvo, who had painted lovely utility boxes in Ashland in 2009, 2010 and 2014. Her “modern art” wildlife themed design was approved May 15, 2015. Ann began painting the boxes in late May and completed them on August 5. It took one year for this seemingly simple painting project to go from inception to completion! See the end of this photo essay for Ann’s comment on the weather she had to deal with as she painted.
Designing the utility box art at North Mountain Park
Ann described the utility boxes she had painted in 2014, near the corner of Pioneer Street and A Street, as among her favorite designs.
She said, “The city had been looking for abstract art in 2014, so I made these two [Pioneer Street] utility boxes abstract. I enjoyed it so much that I decided I would have abstract elements in the wildlife themed utility boxes I did the next year in North Mountain Park. So I used only silhouettes of the animals. The shapes that are not creatures are a take-off from the geometry I used on the smaller Pioneer Street box. I had used a compass to create the circles and to fit them together. I wanted to use that technique of creating interlocking circles to do the clouds at the North Mountain Park boxes.”
You can see interlocking circles and overlapping circles on nearly all sides of the North Mountain Park painted utility boxes. Ann made these designs with a very large compass.
Wildlife theme: How many animals to you see here?
As I spoke with Ann about the design, I started to name some of the animals she had painted. Then we both tried to guess how many animals in total are painted on these three utility boxes. Ann thought it might be as many as 50. I guessed more like 20 or so. She said, “No, the number has to be at least in the 30s.” The next time you go to North Mountain Park, see if you can count the exact number of animals she painted on the three utility boxes.
“I made a reference to the Recology Mosaic in my painting.”
What does Ann mean by this: “I made a reference to the Recology Mosaic, just a few feet away, in my painting?” Here’s how she explained it to me. In the center of the Recology Mosaic is a space for recycling bins and a trash can. The recycling bins of course have the recycling symbol on them, three arrows that represent Recycle – Reuse – Reduce.
Now look at the three swallows chasing each other that Ann painted on the side nearest the recycling bins. Yes … you got it.
The narrow space between the three boxes
“I see the space between the three boxes as a river going through,” Ann told me, “so that’s where I put the salmon.” As I was talking with Ann, I noticed how narrow that between-space is. Astonished, I asked, “How did you get the paint in there?” She laughed as she replied, “Well, I was skinny. I have to say it was uncomfortable to be crouched in there.” Parts of the between-space she could only paint by reaching in from both sides.
“How do you like the way it turned out?”
Ann replied, “I like it a lot. I like to watch people looking at it. I don’t usually step up and say, ‘Hi, I’m the artist,’ but I really like to be kind of a fly on the wall. When it was first done, I went sometimes and watched people’s reactions, and that was a lot of fun – especially watching the kids.”
“Children’s classes were held in the pavilion nearby while I was painting. I would hear the teacher talking and children laughing. I really enjoyed that proximity. Listening to children’s laughter is the wonderful music of the world. When parents and children would come and go from the pavilion, they would stop and take a look at the boxes and ask questions. The kids were usually pretty shy, but they would take a look every time to see the work in progress.”
My last comment – it was really hot!Ann DiSalvo
As my interview with Ann wrapped up, she added: “My last comment – it was really hot!” As you can see in the photo from Nature Center’s 2015 Annual Report, Ann was holding an umbrella to keep the sun off of her.
Educational art, lack of funding
North Mountain Park is full of educational art, which complements the beauty of nature at the park provided by Bear Creek, Beach Creek, small ponds and uplifting, instructive flower-filled gardens. In past years, the nature and art have been part of rich educational programs for up to 2,000 elementary school students per year from Ashland, Medford, Phoenix, Talent, Central Point and more. Financial support from the Parks Department budget, foundations and local community groups has been reduced so much that these programs are not happening in 2023. I hope we can generate support to renew funding for this important environmental education – for both children and adults.
CLICK HERE to see photos and stories of Ann’s 2009 painted utility box in the Railroad District.
Anon. North Mountain Park 2015 annual report.
DiSalvo, Ann. Interview February 2023.
Chesney, Linda. Interview February 2023.
Public Arts Commission minutes, 2014 and 2015.
Betty LaDukePosted at 06:05h, 09 March
Ann’s artwork, is the pause that refreshes…..a delight to encounter and contemplate.
As an avid daily walker, for body and spirit needs, at North Mountain Street Park…..I have enjoyed the diverse, and functional art projects that line the pathways…..I am hoping we can continue to support and use the creative talents of our local artists to enhance our sensitivity to nature, our environment and life.