Interview with Jeannie Tomlinson Saltmarsh: Are There Fish in Lick Creek?

by - June 02, 2013

Crosstown Arts partnered with the Vollintine/Evergreen Community Association in May for their annual Memfeast series. FEAST (Funding Emerging Artists with Sustainable Tactics) is an annual public dinner designed to use community-driven financial support to democratically fund emerging art makers. Memfeast is Memphis' local version founded and facilitated by Crosstown Arts, helping to rethink how the arts are financed and experienced communally.

Several local artists presented proposals to an audience on May 18th for a public art project to be located on the V&E Greenline. Votes were tallied that evening and Jeannie Tomlinson Saltmarsh was announced the Memfeast IV winner with her project, Are There Fish in Lick Creek? 

VM: First of all, congratulations! Now, tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.

JTS: I grew up in Memphis. My father is an architect. Our house was always under construction. We bought a small, brick house in East Memphis, built a wood house over the brick then knocked down the brick house while we lived in it. I believe I have inherited the desire and drive to design and build from my father.

I have a Bachelor's degree from the University of Memphis and attended the Southwest Community College welding program as well as the Penland School of Crafts to study with Elizabeth Brim. Among many things, she taught me the inflation technique I am using for the Crosstown Arts/V&E project.

I have been involved with the Metal Museum for over 20 years in many capacities: a volunteer, artist in residence, gift store product development and small commissions. I currently work in the foundry casting aluminum, bronze and iron into sand molds.

Regarding my art work, I have traditionally gravitated toward functional decorative arts. I grew up changing my environment to be a functioning work of art that reflected our family's personal experiences. Today, my own home is full of functional pieces: light switch plates cast in aluminum or bronze, door stops and boxes cast in iron made from recycled radiators from old houses, drawer pulls and towel bars.

Lately, it has been a bit of a leap for me to make something that doesn't have function. I've been working on a series of vases with flowers, petals and leaves: Always Alive is made of steel and Wrought Iron Vase and Flowers is made from reclaimed wrought iron from the First United Methodist Church in downtown Memphis. It was built in 1893 and burned down in 2006.

Always Alive (left) and Wrought Iron Vase and Flowers (right)

VM: What's your relationship with the V&E community?

JTS: I have lived in the neighborhood since 2003. I contribute time, funds and skills to the community by designing and building the sign for the VECA community office on Jackson and serving on the neighborhood association board and committees. I am also a V&E Greenline user and contributor: I am currently repairing and repainting the Blue Kids sculptures located on the Greenline.

VM: Tell us about your project, Are There Fish in Lick Creek?

JTS: As a V&E Greenline user, I've often crossed the Lick Creek Bridge without much thought about the creek below. When Crosstown Arts put out the "call to artists" for this project, I took a walk specifically to look at the V&E Greenline. While on that bridge, looking into the springtime creek with all its fresh growth and moss, I wondered, "Are there fish in that creek?" I emailed Mary Wilder (the chair of the Lick Creek and Cypress Creek Committee for the V&E Community Association) and she replied that, yes, it has naturalized. It supports frogs, turtles, raccoons, ducks fish and more! Our creek serves as a biofilter for the storm water run off from our streets. It filters the water from our streets before it gets to the Wolf River, Mississippi River and finally the ocean.

The V&E Greenline is a place of motion. As such, I am making a kinetic school of fish at an entry point into the Greenline. The fish, each about 3 feet long, will be mounted onto 12-15 foot poles with weather vane mechanisms allowing them to move with the wind. As the wind hits them all at the same time, they simultaneously change direction just like a school of fish. They will be made of 14-gauge steel. I will use heat and a press and/or a hammer and anvil to add texture to the various pieces that make up the fish body, fins and tail.  The two sides of the fish body, fins and tail will be welded together; a pipe is welded into the body for support. Each fish is heated in a gas forge. Compressed air is forced onto the body of the fish blowing it up/puffing it out and giving it a third dimension. The poles will be painted to look like water reeds or bamboo.

I hope the sculptures will inspire people who pass them to think of the creek and maybe even slow down enough to look at the nature we are so fortunate to have in our neighborhood.

VM: Where and when can we see it?!?

JTS: This map shows a portion of the VECA Neighborhood. The green line represents the V&E Greenline and the blue lines indicate creeks. Lick Creek is the blue line running horizontally on the map. I propose placing the sculptures where Lick Creek intersects the Greenline near Evergreen due to its proximity to the creek, the Greenline and a well-traveled street. This will expose the sculptures to both vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

I am currently working up a project plan and timeline. Once Crosstown Arts and the V&E Greenline approves the plan, the project will begin.

For updates on the project, visit Crosstown Arts website and Facebook page. To see more of Jeannie's work, visit her website.

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  1. Excellent interview, thanks VM! Now, I have a new respect and appreciation for this project.