An overlay of lacy aluminum silhouettes titled A Walk in the Park embellishes the distinctive cement privacy fence called the Catlin Wall that runs east from the intersection of Skinker Boulevard and Forest Park Parkway along the south side of the road parallel to the MetroLink tracks. Pedestrians, car passengers and MetroLink riders enjoy this visual enhancement whenever they pass by.
Upon closer inspection, viewers may observe that the fence isn’t just a fence but an artwork unified by a series of cut metal panels depicting landscape elements of trees, vines, leaves and trellises. A Walk in the Park adds a layer of visual interest stretching nearly a mile along the parkway. Due to the thoughtful design plan, the Catlin Wall is more than a functional sound and privacy wall for the private homes along its south side. It also punctuates and adds aesthetic grace to the fence’s public side.
Originally the water cut aluminum panels were the same flat gray hue as the cement fence but, exposed to the elements over time, they have taken on a golden iridescent patina that highlights the silhouetted elements making them seem to hover in front of the wall.
Andy Cross has been a scenic artist at the Municipal Theatre Association of St. Louis for over twenty-three years and has also worked at the Repertory Theatre and the Opera Theatre, both of St. Louis. In addition, he works full-time organizing and producing industrial shows, installations for amusement parks and other stage related projects.
LOOKING AT ART
- Discuss what effect the addition of the landscape silhouettes makes on the overall impression of the wall.
- Why do you think the artist chose aluminum for the material of the panels? List other materials that could be used. What colors other than gray might have been used and why?
- Before the Catlin Wall was constructed, another much older wall existed along the same route. It was built around the time of the 1904 World’s Fair. Research the history of this wall and find out where it extended. Try to find an image of the original wall. Give a report to the class.
- George Catlin was an important artist during the time of westward expansion. He painted portraits of Native Americans as well as prominent St. Louis residents. Find out the story behind these facts. Research Catlin’s life and art. Find out why his Native American paintings are of such historical importance. Visit his work at the St. Louis Art Museum.
- Take a walk through a park in your neighborhood or near your school. Write a poem titled “A Walk in the Park.” Use descriptive language; note the park’s foliage as it relates to the season of the year, the sky and the path you take.
- Read the Robert Frost poem, Mending Wall. Consider the line “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out,/And to whom I was like to give offence.” Research local newspapers’ archives about the public’s involvement in getting the Catlin Wall built and write a paper integrating Frost’s quote and answering the questions he poses as they relate to the Catlin Wall.
SCIENCE, MATH AND TECHNOLOGY
- Research the process of cutting aluminum with a water jet and with a laser. Give a report to the class. Visit local companies that use one or the other process. Include descriptions in your report.
- Calculate how long the wall is in meters. How much concrete was needed to build the wall?
- Write a one-act play for shadow puppets that takes place along the Catlin Wall.
- Choreograph a dance titled “A Walk in the Park.” Pick music to accompany the dance and perform it for the class.
- Each class member designs one panel for a wall using positive and negative space to be titled “A Walk Through St. Louis” focusing on elements of both the built and the natural environment.
- Research the work of African-American artist Kara Walker who often creates silhouette images that make a social statement. Use the silhouette technique to make a social statement of your own.