BALTIMORE — For Stan Edmister, bridges are a canvas. Where an engineer sees a mass of concrete and steel, he sees a potential masterpiece.
"If paint is going to be put on a bridge to sustain its life, why should it be brown or gray or pastel green, when it could be a lively combination of colors?" says the 51-year-old artist.
Two years ago, Edmister won a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to design a color scheme for the Guilford Avenue bridge in Baltimore. The result was so pleasing, one endowment official said, that Edmister was awarded a second $10,000 grant to select colors for 15 other bridges that cross Interstate 83.
As the bridges are improved, they will be painted according to Edmister's design.
Jeff Soule, special project manager at the endowment in Washington, said the award committee hopes Edmister's work will spur other cities to treat their public works as art.
"We felt it would be a national model in improving the appearance of ordinary structural elements in the urban environment. It is a very, very pragmatic application of art. It elevates public works and at the same time, it makes art accessible," Soule said.
He is uncomfortable with muted hues that allow behemoths to settle anonymously into the background. So he experiments with vibrant greens, yellows, oranges and foil appliques that change color.
He selects colors to highlight the design of a bridge and its setting, he says.
He wants to treat the bridges over Interstate 83 as a continuum--related, yet each with its own temperament.
"Driving under and through the city, there is a series of tunnel arches or bridge covers that sets up a natural rhythm. There should be some sort of color theme uniting them, but there should not be a bland blanket similarity from one to another," he says.
The arches of the Guilford Avenue bridge are bright green, gray and henna. Vertical yellow bands link arch to deck. Girders on the underside are green and yellow. Iridescent-green stripes along the bridge's gray fence appear to change color when the sun strikes them.
The painting was part of a $3.8-million bridge improvement. City officials say they don't know whether the special treatment cost more than if a single color had been used. Harry McCullough, chief of Baltimore's interstate bridge division, said the city sought just one contract and didn't seek a comparison bid.
The cost of cleaning and painting the bridge was $137,000, well below the engineer's estimate of $210,000, he said.
The federal government provided 85% of the improvement money. Porter Barrows, division administrator of the Federal Highway Administration in Maryland, said the government allowed the special painting after determining the additional cost would be minimal.