WILMINGTON –– Members of the New Hanover County Airport Authority slid back a tan tarp Friday in the lobby of Wilmington International Airport (ILM) to reveal the first of three art installations arriving at the facility in the coming years.
A crowd applauded as the terrazzo floor underneath was unveiled: Four oversized Venus flytraps –– popping in neons over a deep blue backdrop –– perched with their pink and green traps wide, waiting to snap on their next prey. Before them, gold lettering spells out “Welcome to ILM,” greeting travelers entering through the electric doors to the TSA side of the room.
“It’s energetic. It’s happy. It’s electric,” said Rhonda Bellamy, executive director of the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County. “And, I think, it’s a fitting welcome to Wilmington International Airport.”
Native exclusively to the Carolinas, the Venus flytrap only grows in the wild in Wilmington’s 75-mile radius. Though tiny, the carnivorous plant is known for its dramatic trapping of unsuspecting insects for nutrients. These little green plants are increasingly rare to come by as their habitats diminish and they fall victim to poachers.
“It’s such a small little plant and kind of goes unnoticed, and I just like to make it noticeable,” said Paul Hill, one of the artists behind the work, following the uncovering.
Hill is known for his flytrap creations. He became enamored with the plant about 15 years ago. In downtown Wilmington, his steel and fused-glass flytrap is a popular attraction along the Riverwalk.
A Vietnam War veteran, Hill worked in advertising as a creative director before devoting his time entirely to his craft. The sculptor and painter teamed up with fellow sculptor Jeff Hackney to bring the work at ILM to life.
“Venus Flytrap” is one of three art pieces selected to beautify the airport as part of a partnership between ILM, New Hanover County and the Arts Council. Two more pieces will be incorporated in the approximately $61-million terminal expansion, currently under construction. The project will extend the terminal by 75%, making room for new airlines and routes, and accommodating the rising population and growth in passengers.
The third and final phase of the project –– which encompasses the gate area, the TSA checkpoint and baggage claim –– is expected to complete in winter 2022.
Travelers will have the opportunity to appreciate the art while waiting for their flight.
The other two pieces are a sculpture of a 20-foot-tall live oak with a variegated canopy and a second terrazzo floor design. Though separate entries, the “Loggerhead Labyrinth” floor piece by Jill Webb and Greg Hall’s steel “Laurel Live Oak” — Hill also collaborated on the oak structure — were chosen because they complement one another, Bellamy said.
More than 30 artists from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia participated in a call for submissions. The airport was specifically looking for art that would capture the spirit of the state’s coastline.
ILM’s artist selection committee –– made up of business development director Carol LeTellier, airport authority member and county chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman, facilities director Granseur Dick, marketing specialist Erin McNally and architect Brian Wilson — chose the finalist’s work based on artistic merit, relevance to the airport, technical feasibility, scale, budget and maintenance.
Floor plans were allocated $25,000 each and the sculpture was budgeted $200,000. Artists are responsible for anything spent over budget.
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