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Program 1316

1. fruit carver Maki Takahashi
2. the Purple People Bridge
3. sculptor Russ Faxon
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Fayette County

For more information:
• Maki Takahashi, P.O. Box 22344, Lexington, KY 40222

Producer: Brandon Wickey
Videographers: Brandon Wickey, Dave Dampier
Audio: Noel Bramblett
Editors: Brandon Wickey, Dan Taulbee

Delicious Art

Fruit carver Maki Takahashi

Maki Takahashi likes to play with her food. She creates elaborate, completely edible works of art out of such staple materials as gingerbread and icing. Along the way, her experiments in turning food into art led her to Kae-sa-lak, a form of fruit and vegetable carving practiced in the Thai royal court since the 14th century. Today this Japanese immigrant, now a Lexington resident, is one of just a handful of people in the U.S. who are trained in this ancient art.

Royal Thai fruit carving goes far beyond making baskets out of watermelons. Its masters, traditionally ladies of the court, are sculptors who choose their raw material carefully, studying each piece’s characteristics and then making delicate cuts that take advantage of natural subtleties of color, form, and texture to create stunning effects. A watermelon is transformed into a highly detailed tulip. A turnip turns into a rose. A cucumber becomes a many-lobed flower, accompanied by leaves of zucchini and squash. On our visit with Maki, we watch her at work on several pieces and accompany her to Lexington’s Good Foods Co-op to pick out some vegetables.

Maki says that her fascination with all aspects of food started with her family, which includes several enthusiastic cooks. But it wasn’t until after she moved to America and started cooking for herself that she discovered food as a form of self-expression. She finds the idea that art can appeal to many senses at once inspirational and has no desire to work in a more “permanent” medium. From her Celtic-inspired works based on gingerbread cookies to her fruit carvings, she gives her work away—and encourages the recipients to go ahead and eat it.

Campbell County

For more information:

The Purple People Bridge
Bridge history from Jake Mecklenborg’s Cincinnati Transit site

Producer, videographer, editor: John Schroering

Taking the High Road

The Purple People Bridge

Officially, it’s the Newport Southbank Bridge. But as soon as the first swaths of its bright purple paint went on, people starting calling it the Purple People Bridge—and that’s the name that has stuck.

Connecting Third Street in Newport with Pete Rose Way in Cincinnati, the purple bridge is the longest span in the country connecting two different states, at just over half a mile. And it’s the only one of the nine Northern Kentucky Ohio River bridges that’s for pedestrians only.

The bridge started life in 1872 as the Newport & Cincinnati Bridge, the region’s first railroad connection across the river. L&N bought and renamed it in 1904, and it served the railroad until 1987. But its narrowness meant that it never carried much vehicle traffic, and when Interstate 471 was built in the 1960s, a new bridge was built for it just a few hundred yards away. The L&N Bridge was used only lightly during the 1990s. By the time it was closed to vehicle traffic in 2002, it was rusted and possibly headed for demolition.

But some promotion-minded planners came up with a better idea. Why not give people who might want to visit restaurants and attractions on either side of the river a way to cross on foot? The L&N bridge was convenient to a wealth of new development along both riverfronts, plus the sports stadiums on the Cincinnati side. So the city of Newport and some local businesspeople formed the Southbank partnership to explore the idea of restoring the bridge and reopening it to pedestrians only. The state of Kentucky contributed money for the restoration work, and the Purple People Bridge opened in April 2003. As for the purple: It was the top choice of focus groups of local residents who were shown computer-generated images of what the bridge would look like painted in various colors.

In 2006, another group of entrepreneurs briefly added a new dimension to the bridge with the Purple People Bridge Climb. Rather than simply strolling across on the roadbed, at an average of 140 feet above the river, the climb let those with a more adventurous bent (and no fear of heights) go “over the top” by scaling the structure of the bridge itself. At “base camp” at Newport on the Levee, climbers received a briefing on safety and donned special jumpsuits and harnesses. Then they were off—up and over the four smaller spans and onto the fifth and largest, with its 35-foot, glass-floored walkway extended directly out over the river. On our trip in 2006, we tagged along with some first-timers being led by climbing guide Joseph Schumacher.

As it turns out, the summer of 2006 was almost the only chance anyone got to try the Purple People Bridge Climb. After some legal disputes among the organizations involved and a smaller response than they had hoped for, the bridge climb closed in May 2007. The purple bridge can still be walked—but not climbed.

Warren County

For more information:
Selah Studio, P.O. Box 107, Bell Buckle, TN 37020, (931) 389-6028

Producer, editor: Cheryl Beckley
Videographer: David Brinkley

Saying It in Bronze

Sculptor Russ Faxon

Russ Faxon’s art is definitely meant to be more “permanent” than Maki Takahashi’s, but a tour of his body of work shows that he shares her spirit of having some fun with it.

A Tennessee native who grew up in Bowling Green and studied art education at Western Kentucky University, Russ is known for life-size figures cast in bronze. Some capture specific likenesses, like the piece he created for the Ryman Auditorium that depicts country legends Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff in an animated conversation. Others simply capture a moment, like the child in a swing for a corporate headquarters in Orlando.

After graduating from WKU, Russ taught school in Nashville for two years, then went to Italy to study the art of bronze casting at the renowned Mariani Foundry. He creates his works using the painstaking “lost wax” process. The artist sculpts the piece in clay, then makes a rubber mold around the clay. The mold is then used to re-create the original figure in wax. The wax version is reinforced with rods, and a ceramic shell is layered on top. Then the piece is heated to upwards of 1,500 degrees in a burn-out oven. The wax melts and falls away, leaving a hollow ceramic mold that molten bronze is poured into. Once the bronze hardens, the ceramic shell is broken off. The rubber mold, on the other hand, can be used again to make more castings of the same piece.

For Russ, what’s important in the end is not so much the physical piece itself—an artist is not primarily a “stuff maker,” he says—but what it conveys. His work is meant to share something of what he has felt or experienced in order to evoke a reaction in the viewer.

Russ’s pieces have been exhibited throughout the U.S. and in Europe. His other public works include a statue of W.E.B. DuBois at Fisk University and Tennessee’s memorial to the Korean War, both in Nashville.

In this profile, Russ is seen working on a piece that reconnects him with his Kentucky roots and his alma mater: a statue of legendary WKU basketball coach E.A. “Ed” Diddle. You’ll find more about the colorful Hilltoppers coach in Kentucky Life Program 1306.

SEASON 13 PROGRAMS: 1301130213031304130513061307/1326: The Lincoln Wedding130813091310

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