It's Not a Dump Site

Careless road crews trash Brad Oldham's 'Traveling Man' sculpture in Deep Ellum

Road crews trash Brad Oldham's 'Traveling Man' sculpture in Deep Ellum

Traveling Man sculpture, Deep Ellum, Brad Oldham
Brad Oldham's Awakening sculpture gets some unintended additions. Photo by Marc Lee
Traveling Man sculpture, Deep Ellum, Brad Oldham
City of Dallas makes its own colorful addition to Brad Oldham's Awakening sculpture. Photo by Marc Lee
Traveling Man sculpture, Deep Ellum, Brad Oldham
Bricks are your friends, my friend. Photo by Marc Lee
Traveling Man sculpture, Deep Ellum, Brad Oldham
Traveling Man sculpture, Deep Ellum, Brad Oldham
Traveling Man sculpture, Deep Ellum, Brad Oldham

Art aficionados strolling past the corner of Good Latimer Expressway and Elm Street in Deep Ellum might be surprised to see some new additions on the Brad Oldham-Brandon Oldenburg sculpture Awakening.

The sculpture is one part of their iconic "Traveling Man" series; it features three trademark shiny birds, plus a guitar-head-shaped piece that represents the Traveling Man's head.

According to its bio, the 4½-foot sculpture is made of brushed stainless steel sheets with stainless steel monobolt rivets. The bird sculptures are cast in 304 stainless steel and polished to a mirror finish. They rest on a bed of Cherokee rock and custom-stained concrete.

 Junk has been dumped there by the road repair crew, who possibly do not recognize public art when they see it.

But what is this: Next to one bird's foot sits a cardboard box, bent and crumpled, with the words "Terracotta lighting" printed across its sagging side. Behind it, a pile of bricks, like the ones you might see used to pave streets, messily strewn over the Cherokee rock.

Over by another bird lies a tipped-over sign with red-and-white lettering that reads, "City of Dallas - Elm Street Improvements - Public Works Department." Its sharp aluminum base rests mere inches from the bird's polished mirror finish.

Has Oldham updated the famed sculpture, chosen by USA Today as one of the 10 Best: Weird & Interesting Public Art pieces in 2014? Perhaps he's making a droll commentary on the ongoing construction in Deep Ellum and the futility of road improvement as we move toward a more walkable state?

Not really. All that junk has been dumped there by the road repair crew, who possibly do not recognize public art when they see it.

The series is owned by DART, which commissioned the three-part project in 2008. The brushed stainless steel and polished mirror finishes were designed to be low-maintenance, and the pieces are intended to invite interaction. But surely that does not include a pile of rubble from a city work crew.

"We've been in contact with the City of Dallas on that," says DART spokesman Morgan Lyons. "We have talked with the project construction team. I think there've been a couple of conversations at different times about what this piece is — that it's not something that just sprung up, but that it's an important asset.

"When they first started construction, there were some issues with some trash. We were under the impression that things have improved."

 "It's disappointing as an artist when you provide a piece of public art, you've given it to the community, and it's not being taken care of," Oldham says.

The next piece up the street, called Waiting on a Train, has more shiny birds plus The Traveling Man leaning against a concrete artifact, strumming an abstract circular guitar. The installation is located on the corner of Good Latimer and Gaston, and it can be accessed by any pedestrian — or, as was recently spotted in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, a hulking Ford F-150 pickup truck, which drove up onto the sidewalk via the handicapped ramp so that its hillbilly occupants could jump out of the car and romp over the sculpture.

"The Traveling Man is so approachable in this installation that kids often climb onto his lap, and he's sturdy enough to accommodate such visitors," the bio cheerfully coos. But the piece seems vulnerable — and in fact was "nudged" by a car a few weeks ago, which moved the concrete slab out of place.

"We're working on that, but getting that fixed will not be an easy thing because it weighs over 10,000 pounds," Lyons says.

Part of the vulnerability is intrinsic, as the series is located on everyday street corners, as opposed to a piece like Chicago's famed Cloud Gate, aka "Silver Egg," which is removed from striking distance of cars.

Oldham says the plight of the art is out of his hands, and that DART has been "open to communication," but that it's hard to see his work at risk.

"In a short time, the piece has become one of the recognizable signatures of Dallas," he says. "For it to be an icon, sitting there, and a car hits part of it — it's disappointing as an artist when you provide a piece of public art, you've given it to the community, and it's not being taken care of."

Lyons says he's optimistic that getting the clutter cleared away from Awakening is a phone call away. Protecting the art from incursion is a larger issue.

"The challenge for us is how do you continue to make this accessible," he says. "Public art by definition has to be accessible."