Harold Rittenberry, an Athens artist in his late 70s, stood staring at his welded-steel sculpture that was erected in downtown Atlanta more than 20 years ago.
“I’m amazed. They said they were going to take care of it, and they did,” Rittenberry said Thursday morning.
Rittenberry and a few dozen city leaders and artists had gathered at the partial reopening of Folk Art Park, a public art project that was commissioned for the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996.
The result of a 1994 international design competition won by University of Georgia art professor Robert Clements, 67 works from 23 southern artists were placed across two cement bridges over Interstate 75/85.
But over the years, the park and its pieces had become damaged and weathered.
In an effort to restore the collection, the Atlanta Public Art Legacy group requested money for improvements.
The Georgia Department of Transportation provided about $300,000, and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District contributed $100,000 for the preliminary design and engineering.
The artwork was restored with new paint, concrete and metal. Anti-skateboarding devices, bird deterrents to protect the sculptures, along with additional lighting and signage about the art was also added.
Clements, standing alongside Rittenberry at the intersection of Piedmont Avenue at Baker Street, said the restoration was so important because many of the artists have passed away; he guesses “probably two-thirds” in the last 20 years.
“So it’s like a time capsule,” he said.
The installation includes work from regional folk artists like former Atlanta city councilman Archie Byron, North Carolina’s Vollis Simpson and Alabama’s Lonnie Holley. Another area of the park, located at Courtland Street at Ralph McGill Boulevard, is scheduled to be restored next.