When the replacement Fern Hollow Bridge opens, it will not just carry cars but also new works of art. The city’s Art Commission approved concepts for separate works of art for the bridge, one on top designed for bicyclists and pedestrians, and another for the people who are using the trail below.
John Peña, who was chosen to work on top of the bridge, says he wants to use the opportunity to educate people by creating a timeline of how water has shaped the landscape.
For instance, the work will include a representation of the Ames Sea more than 300 million years ago, when what is now Fern Hollow — and all of Pennsylvania — was underwater and located near the equator. The timeline will also show how Fern Hollow was once at the bottom of Lake Duquesne 280 million years ago and part of the original path of the Monongahela River more than a million years ago.
That timeline will be etched into the railing and sidewalk.
“This is fascinating. I think it is going to be really interesting to see the historic timelines etched and/or sanded into the concrete with just enough information,” Pittsburgh Art Commissioner Vivian Loftness says.
Peña is working with Swank Construction, which is building the bridge.
The commission approved Peña’s conceptual design, though members suggested that he should place text along the railing so pedestrians can read along as they walk across the bridge.
Carin Mincemoyer, the artist chosen for the work for trail users, has developed two different concepts. The first, which would hang off the bridge, is a series of aluminum domes that will create an arch under the bridge. She was inspired in part by the arch from 1901 Fern Hollow Bridge which was replaced by the one that collapsed on Jan. 28.
“The artwork is a ghost image of the old bridge,” she says.
The arch, or arches, because they are located on either side of the bridge, will be constructed of 15 sets of steel cables on each side that are each beaded with hanging medallions, aluminum tubes, 9-inch spheres, and the domes, which would be orange and each nearly 4 feet wide.
The laser-cut medallions will have images of the flora and fauna of the area but they will only be visible with binoculars in a nod to the birders who regularly walk through the area.
“In a similar way that Gothic cathedrals are adorned with sculptural figures that went beyond being purely decorative but also had an informative or instructional message, this will also add a layer of information and engagement,” Mincemoyer says.
Art Commissioner Richard Parsakian says the hanging domes remind him of the work of Christo.
Mincemoyer’s second concept for under the bridge is to put an S curve into the trail, which she calls a “trail meander” with newly planted trees and large rocks and logs where people can sit.
“Like a river, the trail will widen out and curve. It takes the slow path, and basically slows it down even more and makes it a place to maybe even stop,” Mincemoyer says.
Sallyann Kluz, director of the Pittsburgh Office of Public Art, says the two artists chosen are part of the Pittsburgh Creative Corps, a group of artists who have been vetted by a panel of artists and design professionals for projects throughout the city.
The state, which is funding the project with federal funds, expects to have the new Fern Hollow Bridge open by the first of the year.