Strange flying creatures have always been a part of summer in New Orleans: Think palmetto bugs, giant mosquitoes and, of course, the swarms of termites that cluster like clouds of toxic cotton candy around streetlamps and porch lights.
But the feathered friends alighting along a stretch of Poydras Street between South Claiborne and South Galvez in lower Mid-City this week are a very different kind of winged visitor.
Titled “Avian Avatars,” these 20-foot-tall sculptures are the creations of Boston-based artists Donna Dodson and Andy Moerlin, who work together as The Myth Makers.
Composed of a variety of materials including saplings, wire tires and found objects, the five pieces are scheduled to be installed in New Orleans on Thursday, after a well-received stint in midtown Manhattan last year and a more recent appearance in Muskegon, Michigan.
Still, Dodson and Moerlin explain that their creations have a particular resonance in the Crescent City, where the “Avian Avatars” will be for two years.
“New Orleans is home to many iconic species of birds, such as the brown pelican, that are unique to the Southern landscape and add to its character,” they said.
“Birds inspire human fantasies of flight and serve as powerful symbols of transformation in many world mythologies. We use stories in our work to develop the meaning of each piece and its connection to the community.”
While the avatars are based on actual bird species such as pigeons, crows and red-tailed hawks, each has its own distinct attributes and “personality” — and each was inspired by a famous cultural figure, including Bruce Springsteen, Mother Teresa and Henry David Thoreau.
Dodson and Moerlin said the larger-than-life scale of the pieces is integral to their effect.
“We hope that the scale of the pieces will inspire people as they relate to the outdoors,” said Dodson and Moerlin. “ ‘The Avian Avatars’ are transparent, almost ephemeral, yet each has a monumental presence.”
The pieces mark the most current iteration of the Poydras Corridor sculpture project — officially The Poydras Corridor Sculpture Exhibition presented by The Helis Foundation — and the first time the project has extended beyond the blocks in the Central Business District, where sculptures have been exhibited for the past several years.
“The expansion into Mid-City is a natural progression as we continue to place pieces along Poydras Street,” said exhibition curator and Sculpture for New Orleans founder Michael Manjarris. “The entrance into a new neighborhood provides more New Orleanians the chance to connect with public art.”
Manjarris also explained how the current exhibitions dovetail — pardon the expression — with the ongoing mission of the Poydras Corridor sculpture project.
“Large-scale installations, such as ‘The Avian Avatars’ and last year’s ‘Funnel Tunnel’ by Patrick Renner, create whole new levels of excitement,” said Manjarris. “Art invigorates neighborhoods, and we’re trying to build off this enthusiasm.”
Generating that scale of audience engagement takes a good amount of institutional cooperation: The ongoing Sculpture for New Orleans exhibitions are presented in cooperation with The Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the city’s Parks and Parkways Department.
Manjarris noted that English-born and Texas-based artist William Cannings colorful “Stacked V” — described as a “whimsical and eye-catching” piece consisting of colorfully painted steel forms resembling inflated pillows — also will be part of this summer’s Poydras Corridor installation. And he said New Orleans art lovers should keep an eye out for “thought-provoking” pieces by artists Bob Tannen and Tara Conley that will be joining the Poydras Corridor rotation later this year.
“New Orleans is a city that’s abundant with talent, and we’re happy to contribute to this vibrant creative scene,” said Manjarris. “To me, New Orleans is a city of art and magic.”