Classical sculpture has often been used to embellish the grand bridges, parks and plazas of great metropolitan cities in America and abroad. It is a bit out of the ordinary, however, in mid-sized Southern cities. The unveiling Thursday of two beautiful classical sculptures at the south end of the refurbished Market Street Bridge may change that. These lovely bronze works -- and two more to be created for the north end of the bridge -- will not only enhance appreciation of the visual arts in Chattanooga. They will surely provide inspiration, as well, for other aspiring cities to follow suit.
The sculptures, akin to the tasteful nude figures of ancient Greek and Roman eras, are the work of Chattanooga artist Daud Akhriev, who studied classical painting and drawing for 14 years in his native Russia, mainly in St. Petersburg, before immigrating to Chattanooga in 1991.
He has previously put his training in monumental public art to good work here in other venues. Four of his murals in Chattanooga adorn St. Peter's Episcopal Church, the Collegedale Seventh-Day Adventist Church and the Samaritan Center. His bronzes at the entrance to the Market Street Bridge would fit easily among ancient classical masterpieces.
The Four Seasons comprises a set of four sculptures of a female figure, representing the woman in four seasons of life. The first two -- and the two to follow -- are nine feet tall and sit on five-foot granite bases. Facing outward to drivers as they enter the bridge, they are certain to animate interest in the arts and enhance appreciation of works of beauty and grace.
They should serve Mr. Akhriev's interest in providing meeting points, objects for discussion and enhanced quality of life. Certainly they will contribute, as one observer aptly noted at the unveiling, a worthy patina to the character of downtown, raising the city's artistic ambience to a new level.
Chattanooga, to be sure, has already gained a national reputation as a rising center for public art. As a column by Tennessee Arts Commission director Rich Boyd noted on this page Monday, Chattanooga has been recognized by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies as a premier example of cities transformed by appreciation of the arts.
The waterfront's Passage, lighted pier and the central greenspace opposite it all feature public art. Other public art -- along Main Street, at Miller Plaza, the Chattanooga Zoo and the Riverfront Parkway, among other places -- has inspired creation of art committees in most of the City Council districts to develop proposals for public art in their communities.
Support for public art in Chattanooga has involved a partnership of individual donors, gifts from the Benwood and Lyndhurst foundations, and financial aid and stewardship by city government. It gained significant momentum with development of the riverfront under Mayor Bob Corker, who encouraged Mr. Akhriev's vision for the Four Seasons for the rebuilt Market Street Bridge. And it has benefited from continued support since then by Mayor Ron Littlefield and the City Council.
The City Council and Mayor Littlefield's office are presently debating how much the city can continue to invest in public art in a period of tight budgets and stretched resources. Judging by the excellence of the first two of the Four Seasons, and the array of interesting works that already enhance the city, the public art initiative merits continued strong support.