By Bernie Petit
If public art is measured by its ability to transform a space or a place, then perhaps no public artwork in Charlotte-Mecklenburg has had a greater impact than Wind Sculpture by the late Jack Pentes.
When the stack of six spheres, made from metal and in the shape of a triangle, went up in Third Ward on West Trade Street in 1986, there was no Gateway Center or BB&T Ballpark. It was a part of town where people didn’t venture after dark.
Wind Sculpture brought “color, movement and excitement to uptown, which in those days ached for all three,” according to The Charlotte Observer.
“The idea was just to create a structure that moves, a structure that has some life and kineticism, that would be different every time you looked at it rather than a statue,” said Dorne Pentes, Jack Pentes’ son.
The seminal public art piece will soon have a different look as its six panels that have faded over time and lost their luster are replaced with abstract, graphic modern images in time for International Sculpture Day on April 24.
North Carolina-based company Glen Raven, Inc., generously donated the Sunbrella fabric for the new Wind Sculpture panels. Former Arts & Science Council board chair Jennifer Appleby and her team at Wray Ward coordinated the design and creation of the spinning circles.
Wind Sculpture will also be celebrated in a future documentary Dorne Pentes is creating about his dad’s recollections of the piece, the first project funded by Queen’s Table, a group of anonymous donors that celebrate Charlotte by funding public art projects that enhance the quality of life in the city.
“It was a great example of some forward-thinking philanthropy and some forward-thinking art that, you know, was not so far out there that it would freak people out,” Dorne said. “It was like, this is art and it can be fun and it can be cool and it can be done by someone from Charlotte.”
In his career, Jack Pentes worked on projects of much larger scales, including sets for Charlotte Symphony and Opera Carolina productions and a now-closed theme park based on “The Wizard of Oz” in Beech Mountain, N.C.
However, Wind Sculpture, which sits in front of the federal courthouse, was his first piece of public art in the conventional sense. Local company Davis Steel & Iron fabricated the work. The whimsical panels, originally designed to be rotated out on a regular basis (which proved impossible to do, said Dorne), quickly resonated with the community.
“People really enjoyed it,” Dorne said. “They loved it. They loved seeing it. They came downtown to see it. They all walked downtown.”
The sculpture, with its whirling circles, has since been a source of pride and a constant in the gateway to West Charlotte. It’s been gratifying for Dorne to watch that end of the city grow around it.
“(My dad’s) work was one thread in a pattern of cloth that became downtown Charlotte as it is now,” said Dorne, a Charlotte native. “It was just one little piece of the puzzle, but it’s a beautiful piece of the puzzle.”