Follow the Light

Follow the Light: Burnsville’s Gateway Project illuminates community through public art
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Summer visitors to Burnsville will be in for an eye-catching new treat: A 22-foot-tall solar “telescope” with about 13,000 hand-blown glass bulbs in a sunset of colors is being installed in May on the west entrance to Main Street. It’s something to see in the daytime, for sure, but it will be especially lovely when aglow at night, says the project’s visionary, Jack Mackie.

Burnsville’s Gateway Project is part of a master plan aimed at luring passers-by off the interstate while beautifying the town and stimulating the local economy. Thanks to a 2014 grant from the North Carolina Arts Council, the town and the Toe River Arts Council brought in Mackie, a renowned public artist from Seattle.

Mackie went to great lengths to learn about the town, its history, and the extended local community before landing on the concept for the telescope. It’s a nod to Burnsville’s namesake, War of 1812 naval hero Capt. Otway Burns—whom Mackie imagines with a telescope in hand looking to the future—and also to Mayland Community College’s more recently established Bare Dark Sky Observatory, which houses the largest public scope in the state. Mackie commissioned local artisans, including an ironworker, engineer, solar specialist, and six glass artists, to pull the job off. The nearby Penland School of Crafts also collaborated, allowing the use of its glass studio. “Art becomes public in the making of the piece,” Mackie notes.

The envisioned gateway project, when completed, will include six telescopes and a public art work that will be a nod to Burnsville’s Quilt Trail. To celebrate the installation of the first telescope, TRAC is hosting an exhibit, and a dedication takes place July 27, making Burnsville’s future look bright, indeed. 

Glass on Fire: Exhibit of Burnsville Glass Gateways
May 19-June 16
Toe River Arts Council Burnsville Gallery
(828) 682-7215

Photographs courtesy Toe River Arts Council