Public artist

Photo By DENNIS MYERS

The utilitarian look of elaborate new bus stops around Reno was relieved by commissioning artists to adorn them. Several on South Virginia Street have art that uses cattle brands, barbed wire, wagon wheel and slot machine designs to tie them to the neighborhood. The artist who produced those is Denise Duarte, a lifelong Nevadan born in Reno and currently undergoing new training at an arts institute in Maryland.

Why do you do public art?

I truly enjoy and find personal satisfaction in creating art work that is without any institutional barriers to the people. …

There may not be institutional barriers for the public, but aren’t there some for the artists, particularly in the planning stages?

As far as the juried portion of that, I do think that is important, since we are dealing with public dollars and public moneys that the artist be vetted and that the art be vetted to be able to be executed in a technically expert way. … Public art, because again it’s public money, should be responsive to that public, however that public is defined. … And I welcome that. I think it creates, oftentimes, a richer dialogue with the public, the more interaction you have with the public. If I want just my voice, that’s what my studio practice is for.

What’s the difference in planning for public and private art?

You have to present your [public] artwork to that commissioning body—or entity or public or a combination—completed. So in other words, it’s not evolving as you create it like you would in your studio practice. You have to sit down, plan it out, make sure the engineering is complete, that it’s feasible within the budget, that it’s technically capable of being produced in the way you have envisioned it and have worked out all those details before you ever start creating it. Studio art—when you’re just creating your own personal expression as an artist—you can have that luxury of letting the art evolve on its own.

Describe the research you did for the South Virginia sites.

For instance, at the Peckham station—the inbound Peckham station—not far, on that same block, had been the Liberty Belle’s saloon and restaurant, which had the Liberty Belle slot machine museum in it. For about 48 and a half years that restaurant and museum stood on that block. … I used to go there, I used to eat there, I used to meet my family and friends for dinner. It was a basic landmark in that part of town, and it was gone. I started researching back, and I found out that Charles Fey was the inventor of the three-reel slot machine called the Liberty Belle, and his descendants were the ones that had started the Liberty Belle Saloon and Restaurant. … All the designs in my artwork are reflective of some of those antique slot machines. … The Meadowood Mall inbound and outbound rapid transit stations were quite different as far as research. My memory was that they were just fields, and I didn’t know fields of what. So, of course, I contacted the [Nevada] Historical Society and they said, correct, where Meadowood Mall is and that area in there had been 102 acres of alfalfa. … [That] got me thinking again about how there used to be a lot of farmers and ranchers surrounding Reno, which is now development. What enabled people to come in and create ranches was their ability to fence in the land … so basically, barbed wire—the invention of barbed wire—was very influential in the claiming of the West. … In my research I found that there had over 580 barbed wire patents and over 2,000 known types. I was able to, on line, go to the patent office and get a lot of the imagery of all these old barbed wire patent [shapes]. … Now on the other side of the street … I went through a lot of the old maps of the Reno/Truckee Meadows area and studied them in great detail and found out that the Henness Pass Trail went by that area. … So I utilized the half-wheel of a wagon wheel and between each of the spokes I researched and [used] the expired cattle brands of the Reno/Truckee Meadows area. … So I tried to make it as specific to the valley as possible.

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Dennis Myers
About Dennis Myers 1397 Articles
Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely Nevada, a children’s history textbook, and a contributor to the books The Mythical West and Covering the Courts in Nevada.