ATHENS, Ga. — A publicly commissioned sculpture at the new home of University of Georgia Cooperative Extension in Athens-Clarke County takes the age-old question of “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” to new heights.
“Origins,” a 20-foot-tall public art installation featuring a concrete chicken atop an egg, greets community members when they visit Athens-Clarke County Extension.
Local artists David Hale, David Harrison and Peter McCarron designed and built the sculpture in response to an open call for submissions for public art to adorn the new county building.
“When the open call went out, David Harrison and I were already working together on another project at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia,” McCarron said.
The pair enlisted another local artist, David Hale, to answer the call. Wanting to build a larger piece than they ever had before, they decided to play on the origin story of the chicken and the egg. McCarron and Hale developed the design, sketching out what would become their reference for the months it took to complete the installation.
“I still have the original design in my wallet,” continued McCarron. “It’s become worn down and tattered, but it really was our guiding star.”
McCarron led the creation of the structure’s foundation, following Harrison’s lead on the concrete layer. Hale took on the details of the piece, adorning the chicken and egg with intricate paintings.
Putting their previous experience and skills together, the artists took the two-dimensional design and erected a monument to something larger than life.
Before this project, the artists were unfamiliar with UGA Extension’s work, something that changed as they worked with Athens-Clarke County Extension and learned about its mission.
“Extension is a valuable resource to the community, not just in Athens but across the state,” McCarron said, expressing newfound appreciation for the organization. “They provide public access to the findings from UGA and help everyday people like us make the changes we need to make to lessen the impact of climate change.”
Reflecting on the meaning of the piece, McCarron added, “It’s about longevity, going back to our roots, and how we rely on nature to teach and sustain us. We want to inspire wonder.”
Each element of the piece is imbued with symbolism, including the sun and moon weathervane that sits atop the sculpture, honoring the cardinal directions and how nature leads efforts of progress. And, of course, the more literal question of origins comes top of mind in the positioning of the chicken atop the egg.
The installation was supported by the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) via the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government, which funds community projects from road and park improvements to new equipment for the fire department. SPLOST also requires new construction in the county to utilize 1 percent of the building budget for public art. Upon approval of any new construction project, the Athens Cultural Affairs Commission (ACAC) helps coordinate these efforts, putting out an open call for art projects fitting the theme of the target site.
Tatiana Veneruso, the public art coordinator for the Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services Department, works with ACAC to manage these projects. The county government created Veneruso’s position to coordinate the influx of projects and work closely with ACAC and the community to ensure these projects reflect the purpose of the SPLOST ordinance, which began 10 years ago.
“Once a project starts, I work with the ‘user group,’ meaning those that use the new building — in this case, Athens-Clarke County Extension, Georgia 4-H and the University of Georgia — and ACAC to define the parameters,” said Veneruso, who worked closely with County Extension Coordinator Jackie Dallas to set the parameters for the open call.
“For this project, we decided we wanted an outdoor sculpture with an agricultural theme. We received about eight proposals that went through the selection review, where members of the user group and community members that have businesses or live in the area review the proposals and determine the recipient,” Veneruso explained. After the blind selection of the winning design, the mayor and commission approved the project and the artists got to work.
The Athens-Clarke County government plans to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony in early January. In the meantime, “Origins” is complete and open to the public for viewing.
Carly Alyse Mirabile is with the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.