By Bill Van Nimwegen
Local artist Merrill Orr presided over the installation of his ‘Kachina’ sculpture in downtown Apache Junction on May 31, 2018.
The 23 ft. tall steel sculpture stands like a sentinel in the center of downtown, facing the setting sun.
The colorful figure is painted with automotive paints and appears to be gesturing with its arms—a rattle extends from one of them. Orr says that the colors are expected to age and patina over time.
The sculpture’s placement ran ahead of the scheduled 3:00 p.m. announcement, but many attended the event, including members of the Focal Point Committee and Mayor Jeff Serdy.
The totem was hoisted by crane onto a cement slab located in the eastern median at the intersection of Apache Trail and Phelps Drive.
Promoted as a centerpiece of the city’s effort to acquire and display public art, the mayor and Focal Point boosters relied on their faith in Orr’s aesthetic and his “world-renowned” reputation to deliver an inspiring piece.
The eclectic design evolved at the artist’s own pace, taking more than a year since it was first proposed to the City Council.
“I didn’t use any references,” said Orr of his vision for the piece. “It is all out of my head.”
“The Focal Point & Tourism group has been working with the artist for a year or so on this,” group member Tess Nesser commented on Facebook. “Merrill Orr has created and donated the Kachina to the city. Right now, this is the second piece to go in this section of the median… The long-range plan is to have two to three sculptures in each section of the median on the Trail from Meridian Rd. to Idaho Rd.”
According to Mayor Serdy, the original proposal made to the City Council was that the display would be temporary. “[Orr’s] original intention was to display it for a period of time and then auction it off for the purpose of obtaining more public art. The problem is, it’s gonna be so awesome how can we ever let it go?”
As with any public art display, reactions are expected to be mixed. There will be those who celebrate the achievement and welcome the addition and those who think it is a waste of time and money. “At least it’s not a Kokopelli,” commented one area resident. “I am sick of Kokopellis.”
In this case, the City did not spend any taxpayer funds. Members of the Focal Point & Tourism group kicked in funds to pour the cement slab base, Councilwoman Christa Rizzi and Arizona Tireman arranged for AZ Crane out of Mesa to help with the installation. Orr credited Industrial Metal Supply of Tempe with providing the materials to build the sculpture.
“Without everyone’s help, this would have been very difficult,” said Orr. “It’s wonderful to see our city pull together for the beginning of our future for public art.” The artist also had a special thank you reserved for his son Bowie. “He helped me with everything throughout the construction process.”
Orr said that now that this project is done, he will be traveling to Chengdu, the largest city in the Sichuan Province of China, to work on 50 new sculptures.
“We (the city) are hoping that this first sculpture will inspire other artists to propose additional art,” said Serdy. “We have a lot of potential sites available.”
For those wishing to become involved in future public art plans, Tess Nesser suggests joining her in the Focal Point & Tourism group. “The purpose of the FP&T group is to beautify and promote Apache Junction. The group meets the second Tuesday of each month at 10:30 a.m. at the Chamber of Commerce. Anyone who lives, works, worships, goes to school in AJ is welcome to join the group. We are currently beginning work on a Founder’s Day (which will happen in 2022—as George Cleveland Curtis put down stakes and founded AJ on August 21, 1922).”