by: Jessie Cartwright
Above the propelled motion and arcing energy of skateboarders, a tall assemblage of found objects spin and turn in the wind with similar physics. At closer view, these colorful objects reveal familiar Prairie Village street signs, skateboard decks, axles and wheels, and layered traffic sign fragments. The 22 foot tall Harmon Skate Park Sculpture, a.k.a. the Windmill sculpture, was designed and constructed by Rhett Johnson in 2005.
Curious about Rhett’s creative process, I spoke with Rhett who initially explored the Harmon Skate Park environment where he envisioned a tall, wind-driven sculpture with motion integral to the design. Rhett chose an old Gulf gas station signpost, divided at the top like the letter “Y”, to support two moving structures, each with a central axel. Next, Rhett strategically angled Prairie Village street signs tipped with skateboard decks on the top of each section to create the rotor blades. Rhett described these sections as “two levels of motion, two different directions, at two different speeds,” a remarkable kinetic engineering feat. Rhett added sign sections that move like a wind vane, and rows of wheels along the curve of the signpost.
Rhett also explained the history behind the sculpture commission from the Prairie Village Municipal Foundation, initiated by Kathy Peterson at his farm/studio. After the 2001 City Council skate park proposal, an Ad Hoc Committee was formed to help raise funds. Parents and local, as well as metro students, embarked on an arduous, two-year grassroots fundraising campaign.
Avid PV skateboarders Jake Shepard and Andy Peterson, among the hard-working fundraisers that also included Kathy Peterson, ultimately raised over $60,000. Kathy recalled, “These kids did not give up. They learned so much about teamwork, perseverance, purpose, and life in the process.” Jake’s terminal illness did not prevent him from fundraising, though he would not see the finished skate park. Rhett tailored a compartment for a time capsule in the signpost that included Jake’s shirt and other contents.
Rhett characterizes his sculptures as “bespoke” or custom made, which he further articulates as “old yet new, unique but commonplace, found and fabricated, evocative and nostalgic, kinetic and static, retro and modern.” To see all the hallmarks of Rhett’s unique, self-taught style, you can view his impressive resume of public sculptures, and solo or group exhibitions at RhettJohnson.com.
The Harmon Skate Park recently opened after a summer of renovation that included the temporary removal of the Skate Park Sculpture. In the final concept design, the Harmon Skate Park Sculpture was reinstalled in a special memorial area of the new skate park.