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Sculpture gives glimpse into Connellsville's past, present, future

Visitors to Yough River Park and the Great Allegheny Passage began the new year with a glimpse into Connellsville's past, present and future.

Confluence blacksmith and metal artist Jody Best began installing her public sculpture "From Coke to Spokes" at the intersection of First and Third streets on Jan. 1.

Her crew included Scott Hostetler of Rockwood, her metal fabricator.

"Depending on the weather, I should have it complete with one more weekend," Best said.

The 8-by-8 stainless steel sculpture offers a window into Connellsville's existence, framing three banked coke ovens that once lit the night with their glow as coal baked into coke. Pittsburgh's steel industry relied on coke and the Connellsville Coal Region reportedly produced the best coking coal in the nation. Bike wheels represent smoke.

Best has etched plates she will install over the oven entrances. She reached out to the community and art students at Connellsville Area High School for their interpretations of the city's past, present and future.

"I needed 30 pieces. I got a big variety, but I could use some more," Best said.

ArtWorks Connellsville, 139 W. Crawford Ave., has forms artists should use to create their arched contribution to the public art.

Thousands will see Best's sculpture annually. "From Coke to Spokes" can be seen from the passage, the park, the river and Memorial Bridge.

This is Best's second creation on the Great Allegheny Passage.

"I designed the stainless train and bike wheel sculpture at the trail head in Rockwood in 2008. I was contacted to work on this Yough Trail project by folks who liked the train, which was a nice validation of what I did. Also, since I live in Confluence, which is also a Trail Town, I can understand the value and importance of creating a positive and vital image for a community through art and cultural offerings. In addition, I love the bike trail. Our family spends lots of time on it, biking, running, strolling and paddling the river," she said.

The Connellsville Redevelopment Authority is proud to have been able to bring all the parties together, said Michael Edwards, Redevelopment Authority executive director.

Edwards also serves as president of the Fayette County Cultural Trust, dedicated to reinventing Connellsville as a center of the arts.

Best's sculpture is the third piece of public art in the city. The other two pieces of public art mark the north and south ends of the city along the Great Allegheny Passage. They were installed in 2008.

Steven Fiscus built an arch at the north end and Meeghan Triggs and Chris Galiyas created murals on silos at Youghiogheny Opalescent Glass Factory.

Edwards is pleased with the prospect of more public art.

"Our master plan involves pulling people off the trail and into town," he said.

"I hope the people of Connellsville like what they're seeing," Best said.

"It's stunning. It's lit at night. It will be an enhancement to the whole area," Edwards said. "All these little steps that build together bring the community a better place, all these partnerships that are forming are so important."

"From Coke to Spokes" will be dedicated in the spring.

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