“Elevation” – First artwork of three as you walk Bandersnatch trail
Artist: Cheryl Garcia
Ashland Public Art series
Introducing the artist
Cheryl Garcia has loved art ever since she could pick up a crayon. I will describe her artistic journey after I introduce her Ashland public artwork entitled “Elevation.”
Creation of Elevation
The “Watershed Art Group” (originally Stef Seffinger, Pam Marsh, Sue Springer and a few others) wanted to place public art along the Bandersnatch trail above Lithia Park. Their goal was to bring attention to the importance of the Ashland Creek watershed, where we source our drinking water. Three sculptures have now been placed along the trail: Elevation, Pacific Fisher and Water is Life. They received funding primarily from the Haines & Friends art fund.
When you walk the Bandersnatch trail, the first of the three sculptures you will see (just before the trail starts) is Elevation by Cheryl Garcia. Cheryl is a metal artist, and Elevation is made of steel. Her initial concept for Elevation included a poem by Edward Abbey with three small birds flying above it.
Over time, the design became three large birds representing the “elevation” you experience as you walk up Bandersnatch trail, as well as a hope for elevation in our spirits through art and nature.
My question: What brought you to metal art?
I asked Cheryl how she came to love metal art. She replied: “It goes back to my love of junky old iron as a kid. My grandfather was a collector of artifacts. I loved going into his garage and digging around in all of his artifacts and playing around with tools. I loved going around collecting rusty old iron in the canyons of southwest Colorado where I grew up. I fell in love with the material first.”
As a child, Cheryl entered many local art contests, whether it was a coloring contest or who could draw a scene from Mesa Verde National Park the best.
“I won quite a few art contest prizes as a kid, including a year’s supply of free fountain sodas from a local convenience store.”Cheryl Garcia
She laughed as she told me, “I was a popular kid,” and then “I think they didn’t do that [contest] any more after I won it, because I was down there every single day getting my free sodas with my friends.”
After a couple years off from school, when she worked drawing illustrations for archeological digs in the Four Corners area, she took every art class at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. During trips to Santa Fe, she was inspired by the large scale metal art sculptures there. Since welding was not offered at Fort Lewis College, she switched to a vocational school and became a certified welder in 1993. That opened the door to metal working and metal art.
Love at first sight
When she lived in Missoula, Montana for a year to enjoy the music scene there and work as a welder, she met her husband Criss. It was a case of “love at first sight” – not the sappy movie kind, but the lasting real-life, through the ups and downs to this day kind.
It was through Criss that they decided to move to Ashland in November 1996. “It was just what we were looking for.” Her first Southern Oregon job at Medford Fabrication enabled her to save enough money to purchase her own metal work and welding equipment.
“Living my dream”
Now that she owned her own equipment, Cheryl said goodbye to the 9-to-5 in order to “live my dream.” She began by making garden ornaments that she sold at the Growers and Crafters Markets in Ashland and Jacksonville.
People who bought her garden ornaments started asking her to make gates and handrails for them. She found out that making structural art required a contractor’s license. Dedicated to growing both her skills and her business, she went to Rogue Community College and got the license. Since then, she has made many bright-colored nature-inspired sculptures both large and small, gates, fences, vessels, sacred art and more.
She is especially proud of a large spiral staircase she built for a private customer, a project that required her to draw upon all of her skills and creativity.
Though she accepts many private commissions, Cheryl especially enjoys creating public art: “I certainly enjoy the public commissions the most, because they’re reaching a bigger audience. I know the joy and wonder I am trying to put out in the world is affecting more lives than just a private commission.”
Cheryl is a visible artist in Southern Oregon. If you have been to Jacksonville in the past few years, you may have seen her huge poppy flowers in the vineyard just outside of town. (photo by Peter Finkle)
If you drive by Walker School on Walker Street in Ashland, you may have seen her large flowers on the school grounds.
Sunflower by Cheryl Garcia at Walker School. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
If you have been to Britt Music Festival in the past few years, you have walked by her huge flower sculpture at the Britt entrance.
Cheryl Garcia poses with her Brittilaria sculpture at the Britt Festival grounds. It is named for the fritillaria flower.
(photo by Rita Ashley)
Elevation: the artistic process
Now let’s look in detail at the piece called Elevation, which was installed near the beginning of the Bandersnatch trail. Elevation began with a Corten steel plate, a stainless steel plate, steel posts, more steel plates for the base, nuts, bolts, paints and more. Corten steel is a quick-rusting steel often used for outdoor installations. The different pieces were each cut out and worked on individually before they could be put together.
This 4-minute video shows an overview of the entire process of creating Elevation.
To complement the video, here is my summary of the steps involved, illustrated with photographs taken from the video. First, the heart of Elevation is the Corten steel plate. Cheryl drew a complex design on the steel, then cut precise holes in the steel with a plasma cutting tool.
Second are the rigid side-poles that support the Corten steel plate and anchor it to the base.
Third is the steel base, which in this case required two large pieces of steel with bolts anchoring it both to the sculpture above and to the concrete foundation below. In most of her jobs, Cheryl makes the concrete foundation as well as the metal sculpture. “That’s why part of my contractor’s license is certification in concrete work as well,” she said. In this case, the Parks Department was responsible for the concrete foundation.
Fourth, the three birds were cut out of stainless steel. The steel had to be ground, sanded and buffed until it was smooth to the touch, without sharp edges.
After each individual part was done, she finally put it all together. The birds were welded to the Corten steel plate from the back side. After they were attached, everything was masked off in order to apply anodized, long lasting industrial paint for the blue color of the birds.
Finally, the rusting process is a key part of the artwork that we see but don’t normally think about. Cheryl painted a chemical solution on the Corten steel, which is made to rust quickly. She said, “It [the Corten steel] takes a chemical solution I can put on. The rusting itself takes some finessing as well; I don’t want it to go too far, and I don’t want it to be too little. So I need to use the right amount of chemical solution to get the perfect rust and then neutralize it with a neutralizer, then rinse it all down before the installation.”
There is so much that people don’t see, including “a lot of grinding” that goes into every piece of artwork. Cheryl summed up, “It is very labor intensive.”
Installation and Dedication
Elevation was installed at the site in June of 2018. The dedication ceremony didn’t happen until September 2018. As it turned out, the dedication for both Elevation and Water is Life (also on Bandersnatch trail) were held on the same day.
Where to find Elevation
My wife and I first walked the Bandersnatch trail to see the three public art sculptures there in July 2020. Just above Lithia Park, the Bandersnatch trail is one of the easiest Ashland trails to access. It begins not far from the swimming hole on Ashland Creek. If you are driving or biking, take Granite Street south to the swimming hole, then turn left on Glenview Drive. After 2/10 of a mile, you’ll see a parking area on the right that can accommodate about eight cars, followed by a larger parking area on the left. If you are in a car, park here.
Near the parking area is this sign that says, “Waterline Trail >” and “To Bandersnatch Trail 820′.” Keep an eye out for mountain bikers zooming by in this section of the trail because this section is a multi-use trail. When you reach the Bandersnatch trail, it will be only for pedestrians and equestrians.
You’ll know you are heading the right way if you pass this gate and sign.
You will reach the Elevation sculpture about 1/10 of a mile from the parking lot, while you are still on the Waterline trail.
Next to the Elevation sculpture, you will see this sign.
Continue up to the Bandersnatch trail if you want to see the other two sculptures on this art walk: Pacific Fisher and Water is Life. Continue to keep an eye out for mountain bikers until you reach Bandersnatch trail. Built in 2012, Bandersnatch trail is 1.7 miles long and intersects multiple trails, so you can hike in a loop or just go straight up and back.
What is a Bandersnatch?
You may be wondering, as I did, “What is a bandersnatch?” It is found in the unusual world of “Alice in Wonderland.” Here is how it is described.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”
Lewis Carroll, from the poem Jabberwocky in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)
Cantrall Buckley County Park
Because I am writing about Cheryl Garcia’s artwork, I want to briefly introduce you to the sculptures being installed at 88-acre Cantrall Buckley county park, located along the Applegate River near Ruch. The park and community have collaborated to raise funds for what has become an Art Walk at the park.
The art in the park began with concrete and mosaic artwork Applegate Valley artist Jeremy Criswell created for the playground at the park.
Jeremy is the sculptor of the Ashland public art piece on the Bandersnatch trail called “Pacific Fisher.”
He introduced community members to Cheryl Garcia, which resulted in a plan for Cheryl to create eleven metal art pieces that embody local flora and fauna in the Applegate Valley. She has completed eight so far as of August 2020, with three more to go.
The community group A Greater Applegate wrote: “Art enthusiasts are delighted to see the numerous sculptures in the Educational Sculpture Art Walk series installed near the river. Cheryl Garcia, our very talented Jacksonville artist, completed the first awe-inspiring metal rendition, “The Mock Orange,” in the Fall of 2018. This spectacular 12-foot sculpture depicts the large and beautiful white blossom of this tender but tough native species.”
Cheryl enthusiastically described the project to me, and said, “It will become Southern Oregon’s first sculpture park!”
If you would like to learn more about Cheryl’s work, her website is GreatMetalWorks.com.
Ashland Public Art map
A map at the link below shows City of Ashland public art, from the city website. Photos of the art are by Graham Lewis.
Here is my other Ashland Public Art article published so far.
Coming soon: Pacific Fisher sculpture by Jeremy Criswell, also on the Bandersnatch trail.
Coming soon: Water is Life sculpture by Karen Rycheck, also on the Bandersnatch trail.
Anon. “Ashland Public Art Collection: A map tour of Public Art installations in the City of Ashland, Oregon,” City of Ashland website.
A Greater Applegate, http://agreaterapplegate.org/cantrall-buckley-park/
Jackson County Parks, https://jacksoncountyor.org/parks/Day-Use/Cantrall-Buckley
Anon. “Cantrall Buckley Sculpture Park Takes Shape, Jacksonville Review Online, June 5, 2018. https://jacksonvillereview.com/cantrall-buckley-sculpture-park-takes-shape/
Garcia, Cheryl. Interview and personal communications, August 2020.
Seffinger, Stef. Interview and personal communications, August 2020.