Artist, Community Celebrate 'Point 7'

BY AMY M. COTHAM
The Morning News, September 19, 2005

FAYETTEVILLE - Many of the folks who have played on, driven past or power-walked by the whimsical structure at the northeast corner of Wilson Park may not know the sculpture's real name.

"The Wilson Park castle," as it is commonly called, was in fact titled "Point 7" by its creator, artist Frank Williams. "It's sort of a self-portrait title," Williams explains. "Seven is a lucky number. And seven reflects my position in my family's genealogy. I'm Francis Marion Williams VII. At age 7, I changed my name to Frank Williams because I didn't like being named Francis Marion! I was born the seventh month of 1947. And so on.

"A point can be a place or position in space and time," Williams continues. "You can make a point, as in projecting a concept or idea. You can take the point and be the first and lead the way. You can point at something of significance or importance. A point should be sharp. A point can be earned for good work."

Williams will speak about "Point 7" during a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the sculpture at 11 a.m. Saturday in Wilson Park. The ceremony is part of the second annual Art in the Park, sponsored by Fayetteville Parks & Recreation.

Williams was a Fayetteville transplant from Springfield, Mo., in the late 1970s, when he had the idea to build a grotto near a wooded area at Wilson Park. City officials suggested an alternate location for an outdoor sculpture, the site where "Point 7" now stands, as a way to adapt a spring house they considered an eyesore. There was little money for construction or for future maintenance, Williams was told, but the city was willing to provide the space, the cost of excavation and hand tools for use in transforming the site.

"I understood that," Williams says, "because the city wasn't nearly as prosperous as it is now." Williams also knew without maintenance the work would be a victim of entropy from the moment it was completed. Keeping in mind the project's inevitable future, he decided to create a structure that intentionally resembled a relic in slow decay.

"I hoped the wear and tear and the vandalism that was bound to take place would only enhance it and make it look older," Williams recalls. Inspired by the warped-Gothic look of architect Antoni Gaudi's work, Williams says, "I intended to create an architectural anomaly and 'ruin.' Even in its original newness, it was reminiscent of something ancient, like some old world European or Asian relic of times past."

The idea was very different from the sculptures Williams' was producing in his studio, "but I wanted to do something palatable to the city and for the people of Fayetteville," he says. After just a few weeks spent on design, construction on "Point 7" began in April 1979.

"It was a big deal and involved a lot of people," Williams says.

Approximately 25 people ages 16 to 21, all with little or no art background, helped Williams realize his vision. Williams was working with the Arkansas Arts Council's Artists and Crafts Apprenticeship Program, part of the Civil Education Training Administration, a program that employed people to create public works. "They weren't artists, just unemployed folks who needed jobs," he says. Throughout the process, "they came and went," he adds. "It was a hot Arkansas summer, and we were paying minimum wage, so I can't blame them for trying to earn the same amount working indoors somewhere."

Other details of the "Point 7" construction are well documented on Williams' Web site, www.frankwilliams.ru, where the artist has posted many papers and pictures related to the project. Photos of the entire process, from models to construction to fruition, are available for viewing, as are a May 3, 1979, letter from the Arkansas Arts Council to the city, an invitation to the "Point 7" dedication and stories and letters to the editors of local newspapers, heralding public response.

In retrospect, Williams offers his own summary of the project on the Web site, printed in part below:
"Many local citizen professionals -- i.e. architects, builders, stone masons, engineers, landscapers - gave me advice and counsel. George Shelton and Leo Davis donated the initial stone for the project. Mr. Shelton was also of constant moral support as were many of Fayetteville's good folk visiting the grounds during construction. Ninety percent of the ceramic expertise, materials and firing processes for the mosaics were provided by Rita and Leo Ward at Terra Studios, just outside of Fayetteville. Their son John worked on the project as one of the three 'older' workers hired during the project, acting as foreman or first assistant. His work and his family's involvement allowed the last half of the project to run much more professionally and predictably. White River Iron Works, owned by my friends Linda and Daniel Marquardt, gave advice and allowed me access to their metal fabrication facilities. Linda also provided classical music with her string quartet for the opening of 'Point 7' on a very hot July afternoon."

That hot afternoon was July 20, 1980, when "Point 7" was officially dedicated and offered for public enjoyment.

Williams, who now lives in Russia and continues to create art, has visited "Point 7" several times since then, most recently last year. The sculpture resembling a castle, which has long been a popular place to gather, rest or play, indeed received the expected wear and tear, Williams says, but he adds, "I always had the idea it would be popular. I just hoped someone would take over its maintenance. And ultimately, that's what happened."

Lisa Netherland, a horticulturist for Fayetteville Parks & Recreation, is the person who adopted the repair and maintenance of "Point 7" as a pet project. Shortly after her employment began in 1995, Netherland says, she watched someone attempt to sit on a rock at the castle and realized how loosely held together the structure is. "The stones had been very loosely stacked to look like a ruin, but that meant it could be more easily ruined. And use was heavy. Many people had come to the castle and climbed all over the rocks. Things were worn down, and the structural integrity had been weakened. It also had received some vandalism, graffiti, through the years.

"I knew ('Point 7') really means a lot to a lot of people. People really love the castle, and Wilson is our flagship park. I approached my supervisors about ('Point 7'), and we decided to repair it."

Repairs were made to the castle, including fixing a large crack in the tower, and the structure was made sounder. A handrail for a foot bridge was replaced. "They did a good job, the best they could with the materials in 1980, but it had just deteriorated," Netherland says of the handrail.

Nearby walkways were widened and extended. Benches were installed, as were new tiles from Terra Studios, contributor to the original project. Landscaping was also added to spruce up the area. "As a horticulturist, I really wanted to plant flower beds," Netherland says.

Renovations to "Point 7" were officially completed in 1999, followed by a few more minor updates in 2004.

"Basically it still exists in a configuration that resembles my completed project in 1980," Williams writes on his site. "Up close, much of the detail has worn down or been abused over the years, and the restoration since the mid-1990s did not take me into account. Unfortunate, but I am grateful that the city of Fayetteville's Parks and Recreation Department did finally see clear to seriously invest and preserve what was always a very popular, much used public work and positive addition to the community."

Williams hopes the support of "Point 7" continues. He has designed small statues to compliment what's there now, based on "old ideas I had when the (initial) funding ran out." He also created and gave to the city a new, bronze gargoyle to replace an original stone one stolen from "Point 7" years ago. "It's bronze, so anyone will have hard time getting this one out," he says.

Approximately 50 members of Artists of Northwest Arkansas will also be present in the park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday as part of Art in the Park. The artists, who come from throughout the region, will display and sell their work, and portions of the proceeds will benefit community art programs. A free lunch will be provided to the first 300 people who attend the event.

Public address delivered 17 September, 2005 for 25th anniversary celebration

25th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION, 2005

Northwest Arkansas Times:
Artist Frank Williams recalls construction of Wilson Park Castle, BY SARAH K. TERRY
Designer returns to celebrate 25th anniversary of Wilson Park castle, BY KATE WARD

 
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