It was quite possibly downtown Jefferson’s ugliest alley — covered by an overhang from its time as the drive-up lane for the former Jefferson State Bank.
That north alley is now Arch Alley.
The massive new sculpture in its midst — forged and welded by homegrown artist David Williamson using ideas from local schoolkids and other members of the community — will officially be dedicated at 5:30 p.m. Friday by the Tower View Team, the grassroots group committed to public art projects and creative installations.
It’s been nearly 50 years since Williamson unveiled the sprawling sculpture that adorns the exterior of the Jefferson Public Library — a bold work of contemporary art that made the cover of the Des Moines Sunday Register’s Picture Magazine with the heading “A Commitment to Sculpture.”
A 1966 graduate of Jefferson High School, Williamson was just 25 at the time of the 1973 commission, a work financed by Home State Bank as possibly the first privately funded public art project in state history.
Williamson is now a 72-year-old grandfather, but he still specializes in the kind of sculptural work that would send people half his age to the chiropractor.
Arch Alley is no exception.
Three towering metal arches, the new work incorporates metal from a variety of local sources — not the least of which is the alley’s old overhang.
The beams were carefully removed by Murphy Brothers Construction and taken to Williamson’s studio near Ogden, where they became arch legs.
Another large beam came from the Muir Embroidery building during the recent rehabilitation of historic storefronts.
Some other tidbits about Arch Alley:
• There are a total of 75 aluminum castings on the three arches. (Look for the castings of piano legs taken from one of Jefferson’s first Play Me Pleez public pianos, an early TVT project.)
• Much of the aluminum was fished out of the Raccoon River south of Jefferson during Williamson’s time as an artist with Project AWARE of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
One of the sculptures created by Williamson during his time with Project AWARE — an 11-foot-tall, 500-pound canoe paddle made from recycled river trash, “Fair Catch” — now resides in the children’s department at the Jefferson Public Library.
• Williamson once told The Jefferson Herald, “I pursue the art of making the process public.”
In keeping with that spirit, Williamson and Tower View Team facilitated five different community drawing workshops at the beginning of the design process. Williamson also worked with elementary students in Jefferson and Churdan to come up with the different shapes for castings on the arches, in addition to the arch tops.
• Castings on the first arch were obtained through a community workshop conducted by Tower View Team and Williamson at the Greene County Historical Museum using historical objects found at the museum.
• A community writing workshop led to the creation of an accompanying poem, “ARCS.”
The Jefferson High School class of 1967, along with a grant from the Greene County Community Foundation, enabled the poem to be placed on a large bronze plaque in the alley.
• Art is historically open to interpretation, so consider this a cheat sheet of sorts to Arch Alley:
The arch tops not only reflect arches seen in other places downtown, but the middle arch incorporates drawings by students of their pathways to school.
The north arch is a nod to manufacturing in Greene County, with round shapes meant to evoke weight equipment made at Power Lift, gears made at New Way in Scranton, discs made at John Deere in Paton and breakaway rims manufactured at AAI/Spalding.
• All of the castings are mounted on clips made from beams donated by Home State Bank from its recent expansion.
• Tower View Team received a grant from Grow Greene County in the spring of 2018, secured monetary sponsorship from Home State Bank and collaborated with the city of Jefferson.
• The reclaimed aluminum was melted in the crucible of Williamson’s forge at a temperature of 1,220 degrees. Williamson was assisted throughout the casting process by his brother-in-law, Marc McGinn, of Jefferson.
• The Jefferson High School class of 1968 donated a bench in the alley, as well as two more outdoor chairs and small tables to come.