By DENISE FEDOROW
Nappanee will be blooming with apples this spring — apple art, that is. Residents and visitors will see 4-foot apples stationed around town, each with its own appealing artistic design.
Jeff Stillson of Stillson Studios is an artist and the project coordinator. He said the idea was germinated from working on the Elk Art project in the city of Elkhart and he wanted to bring a similar project to Nappanee.
“But no governing body could undertake it,” he said.
Stillson said he believed in the project so much he was determined to find a way to make it happen, so he asked city officials for permission to pursue it if he found a way to make it happen and he received their blessing. Stillson set out to find individual and corporate sponsors for the apple art. He had a goal of 20 and sold 13 by the designated deadline of Feb. 14.
The purpose of the project is to attract visitors to Nappanee with the expectation that once they are in town they’ll shop, dine and tell others about their experience.
“We have so many attractions for visitors — this just adds one more element for why people should come to Nappanee,” he said.
Other communities have had success with this type of public art exhibit. Chicago had Cows on Parade. Mackinac Island had Turtles around Town. St. Joseph, Mich., has a different theme each summer season from Hot Diggity Dogs to the upcoming Planes, Trains and Automobiles. And Elkhart County had Elk Art on parade.
Stillson said the big difference between this project and the Elk Art project is that was done as a fundraiser for CAPS. Businesses sponsored the cost of creating the artwork and then the Elk were auctioned off with the proceeds going to CAPS. With “It’s A-peeling Art,” the cost of the sponsorship is covering the cost of the artwork and the sponsor then owns the piece.
“Once the event is over — if it ever is — the apple is theirs to do with as they want. They can sell it, give the money to charity, take it home, whatever they want,” he said.
There is no end date in sight at this point. Stillson hopes the project will grow and there will be apples all over town year around.
Stillson said it costs the same to ship two of the 4-by-4-foot fiberglass apples as it does to ship 20. So to keep the cost of the sponsorships down, he is ordering them in quantities. The goal is to get the first 13 designed, painted and installed uptown and then take sponsorship orders for the next round.
Stillson has brought six local artists, aside from himself, on board to paint the apples. Sponsors can create their own design, choose which artist they want to work with (or one will to them). Four of the six artists are from Nappanee and two from NorthWood High School.
The design on the apple can be representative of the sponsor’s business, but not be an advertisement so no logo designs will be accepted. Each piece will have a name chosen by the artist and owner.
The apple art will be able to be out year-round because McCormick Motors is using automotive clear coat to weatherproof them. Bontrager Concrete is donating the concrete bases that the apples will sit on and SRP Custom Graphics is supplying the plaques for the donor’s names.
They plan to have the already-commissioned artwork in place downtown by May 1.
Stillson said he’s grateful city officials and Jeff Kitson of the Chamber of Commerce and Redevelopment Commission have gotten behind the project and are supporting and promoting it.
Kitson explained why he was supportive of the project. “A-peeling Art is a community project — not something one person is benefiting from. Jeff (Stillson) had a vision to pull the business and artistic community together for mutual benefit and that’s what the Chamber supports — members bringing ideas and running with them — especially when they help grow retail and other business.”
“The project will bring arts and culture to Nappanee to benefit tourists as well as the retail shops — it will add another element why people come to Nappanee. They already come for Amish Acres, antiques, furniture, the quilt gardens and murals, now the apples will be a reason to come and possibly bring another demographic to town,” Kitson said.
Kitson was also excited about the local artists working with the sponsors. “What’s really neat is that NorthWood High School art students and local artists will be working with you,” he said, noting that by having the majority of apples in the downtown area, “People are going to notice. I really believe we’re stepping up.”
Kitson also noted that the apples are big enough to be noticed and for families to take photos with, but not too imposing. Right now plans are to have them inside the downtown flower beds.
Stillson, who has been president of the redevelopment commission for several years, shared he’s passionate for promoting his city.
“Nappanee has to start setting itself apart from other destinations,” he said. “I think this is a great first step to do that.”
Stillson said he didn’t consider himself to be business-minded in the sense that when it comes to promoting businesses his artistic mind can help with aesthetics, making a business look better.
“So there’s only so much as an artist I can do to help my community — but I can put art downtown; I can do murals — that’s what I can do,” he said.
Kitson said what’s neat about the project is the collaborative effort between the artists, the merchants, retailers and Chamber. “Bringing everyone together, working together,” he said. “I hope the apples continue to grow!”