‘Iconically Akron:’ Artists design A-shaped benches for city landmarks

by Brittany Nader

When Akron artist Jeremy Jenkins was commissioned to create an “iconic” work of public art, his goal was to conceptualize a simplistic, interactive, functional piece that could help put the city’s neighborhoods on the map.

Jeremy designed four Destination Akron letterform benches, placed in the North, South, East and West sides of the city. 

The benches are what he calls architectural sculptures, or “archisculpture,” intended to serve as outdoor seating for local residents and draw people to distinct locations in the area.

“We wanted something that was just iconically Akron,” Jeremy says. “I wanted to be able to do something that was iconic in that sense and also give something back to the city.”

Mac Love, founder and chief catalyst for Art X Love, called upon Jeremy to design a piece that would help the city’s neighborhoods become “destination worthy.”

Art X Love’s @PLAY project was awarded a $241,000 Knight Cities Challenge grant, and $8,000-$10,000 of that funding was put forth to develop, create, build and install the Destination Akron sculptures.

After putting out a call to local artists and metalworkers, Jeremy presented a simple yet powerfully elegant design: A single letter A, distilling to the essence of the word “Akron” down to one letter.

After Jeremy and Love decided to create four of the sculptures, each painted a different color and placed in locations in Akron’s communities, they invited metal sculpture artist John Comunale to construct and weld the pieces.

John says Jeremy presented the designs, and he determined how to build each bench so it could be strong enough for people to sit on.

“A big ‘A’ designating Akron—I think people will go there just to take a picture, and the form itself is striking,” John says.

The sculptural benches were fabricated with steel then painted and coated in John’s Canal Place studio. 

Paint was donated for use on the pieces through a partnership with APV Engineered Coatings — once known as Akron Paint & Varnish — which is one of the city’s oldest businesses.

John is no stranger to creating beautiful forms that also serve a practical purpose around the city. The artist’s work can be seen in outdoor signage around Akron. His love of architecture has granted him the opportunity to refurbish deteriorated, historical details in buildings throughout the community by taking molds and casting them in polymer to bring classic charm into the new century. 

John works mostly with stainless steel and wood but has experimented with other materials—like rubber, which he used to help construct the tire monster installed at Lock 3.

He says he likes art to be both functional and interactive, as the Destination Akron letterform benches are.

“A lot of people look at public sculpture, but it’s not really designed to be sat on… This is definitely a bench, so I think people being able to interact with it is a great thing to feel more a part of it,” John says. “I think they’ll give neighborhoods and people who live there a feeling of pride.”

Jeremy agrees that people are often conditioned to think of art as something to observe and view, and sitting on a piece of art can seem counter-intuitive.

“Having something where people can interact with it, they can sit on it, take a selfie with it, it kind of belongs to them in that sense,” Jeremy says.

The artist, who is known for his large-scale paintings, drawings and graphic design work, says he wants to make more works that people can touch and be part of.

“[Something] kids could skateboard on… people could have a full-body experience with,” he says. “These benches obviously can’t handle any skateboarders, but sit down, read a book, listen to music, hear a podcast, take a selfie with it, drink your coffee, enjoy it in that way.”

Jeremy says he would like to see more public art in Akron, hoping that each time an artist creates new work and is able to get it installed in a community space, it makes it a little easier for other creators to get their pieces out there.

Sorting out the placement of the sculptures in public spaces, and getting permission to install them, posed several challenges throughout the process. 

Jeremy says the most successful part was bringing a diverse group of people together to work on a project and see it through to completion. 

Most artwork is made in a bubble in a way—somebody produces something in a studio or a shop, and they put it out there—and the work John has done around the city, it’s usually him and a worker or two,” Jeremy says. “But this was a very large, collaborative effort. It was a good template for doing future work.”

The four Destination Akron letterform benches are visible at:

Stan Hywet (Green)

Firestone Park (Blue)

Derby Downs (Orange)

Summit County Historical Society (Yellow)

Art x Love encourages residents and visitors to take selfies with the pieces and use hashtag #DestinationAkron when posting to social media.

Brittany Nader lives, works and writes in Akron, Ohio.

Photos: Used with permission from Art X Love and Jeremy Jenkins.