Every time I’m on Billy Graham Parkway, I find myself asking the same question when I exit for Charlotte Douglas: “Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it just another piece of art I’ll just never understand?”
It’s two of those things. Sort of.
The giant feather-airplane wing-jungle gym hybrid sitting comfortably at the exit and recognized as a key entry to the airport is called Ascendus and it was created by Ed Carpenter.
With a $381,000 budget stemming from the city’s 1% for arts ordinance, Carpenter, known for large-scale pieces of the same fashion, set out to create a piece that reflected the excitement of flying.
The end product came to life by drawing upon the spirit of flight, including planes, feathers and the act of taking off. It’s made completely of aluminum, steel (stainless and otherwise) and laminated glass and created with the help of local business SteelFab. Standing at 60′ tall by 25′ wide and lit up by 54 LED floodlights after dark, it achieves its goal of being able to be seen as a landmark visible from several of the adjacent roads. In 2012, Ascendus was dedicated in honor of former Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Susan Burgess.
Ascendus is part of a program that launched years ago called Just Plane Art, a collection of more than 20 rotating and permanent pieces of artwork. The aim is to promote regional art and give travelers a sense of familiarity with Charlotte, but the installations have come to practically define the airport, and you’ve seen other installations without realizing it. It’s where the 100+ rocking chairs, Queen Charlotte statue, Postcards from North Carolina and the 1/2-scale replica of the Wright brothers’ airplane came from.
The ever-present rocking chairs
No, they’re not just there for your comfort or to add charm to the main atrium. The first chairs were installed in 1997 as part of a temporary exhibit called “Porchsitting, a Charlotte Regional Family Album” that aimed to make the tree-filled atrium feel more like a Southern porch.
They were never expected to be used, but they caught on with travelers and spread like wildfire. There are 100 in Charlotte Douglas today and airports across the country have borrowed the idea.
The Queen Charlotte statue
Despite what I’ve spent most of my life believing, the woman outside of the main terminal is not a statue of a woman losing her balance or receiving a punch to the stomach.
She’s far more regal than that, as she’s the entire reason the Queen City is the Queen City.
The 15-foot tall bronze beauty is actually the wife of England’s King George III, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz — hence the crown in her right hand.
If you’ve noticed that she’s missing lately, don’t panic. She’s sitting comfortably in her new spot between the two Daily parking decks.
Postcards from North Carolina
You’ve seen these heading to or from baggage claim and ticketing since 2006. Beatrice Coron created the six pieces out of cut metal to bring some of the most important North Carolina spots to life, including the Charlotte skyline, the mountains and the coast.
The Wright Flyer
This half-sized replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer created by brothers Orville and Wilbur sits at the entrance to Concourse E. Brief history lesson: the Wright brothers of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina found success in the Flyer on December 17, 1903, marking the first powered flight.
The concourse is, fittingly, the airport’s regional carrier concourse.
So, next time you’re at the airport, don’t always look straight up at the planes or straight down at your phone. Look around. You may learn something.
Cover photo via ASC Charlotte