Driving down Pearl Road from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo to its intersection with State Road, it’s hard not to notice the eight whimsical carrot sculptures that dot the streetscape and ponder their significance.
“There has been a lot of curiosity about it,” shares Vince Reddy of LAND studio, which helped bring the project to fruition. “People are always wondering, ‘Where did these things come from?’”
Better known as the “Root Riders,” the carrot sculptures were installed in fall 2017 via the City of Cleveland Public Art Program as part of a larger $10 million streetscape improvement initiative on Pearl Road. The brainchild of local artist Melissa Daubert, the carrots pay a quirky homage to Old Brooklyn’s rich background in greenhouse farming.
During the late 1880s, farmers in the South Hills area were among the first in the Midwest to use greenhouses for cultivating vegetables, and by the 1920s, the neighborhood was one of the country’s leading producers of greenhouse vegetables. “Old Brooklyn once had more than 100 acres under glasss,” shares Reddy.
Though the construction of OH-176 and new housing developments displaced many of those once-thriving greenhouses, urban farming continues to matter in Old Brooklyn—home to the state’s largest community garden.
“[The idea is] based on Old Brooklyn’s history combined with present-day trends,” Daubert wrote in her proposal. “I feel the imagery of these giant vegetables along Pearl Road brings to mind nature, growth, or possibly, ‘What will I prepare for dinner tonight?’”
According to Reddy, Daubert’s proposal was chosen among 30 responses to a call for artists—from which three finalists were chosen: Daubert, Cleveland artist Dana Depew, and Pittsburgh artist James Simon. Reddy says Daubert’s concept was chosen because of her distinctive style, use of unconventional materials (such as coconut hair), and its tie-in to the neighborhood.
“Melissa did a great job of coming up with something unique to Old Brooklyn and relevant to its history,” says Reddy, adding that the approach is akin to the Edgewater Hill Blue Birds found throughout Detroit Shoreway. “The carrots really emphasize the district’s unique personality.”
Initially, Daubert’s idea involved attaching the carrots to utility poles, but when that was nixed by the power company, she had to go back to square one. “Originally, I just wanted to make these root vegetables sticking out on Pearl, up in the air, making these cool shadows,” shares Daubert.
The Root Rider racks in actionInstead, the end product features freestanding carrot sculptures atop metal sculptures designed to look like oversized unicycles (for which Rust Belt Welding provided the fabrication); the sculptures also double as bike racks.
“Starting over was kind of a setback, but it made the project even better, because now the sculptures have a purpose beyond just typical artwork,” says Reddy.
Daubert spent about a year and a half doing research and development, consulting with organizations like the Brooklyn Centre Naturalists. Though she lives in Detroit Shoreway, she knew the neighborhood well because of her work as a teaching artist with Old Brooklyn Community Elementary School.
Now that the Root Riders have been in place for a year, Daubert believes root vegetables are the perfect “visual icon” for Pearl Road. “Not only are root crops common in our cold climate, but they can also be considered the source or origin—the essential core or heart,” says Daubert.
And what better spot than Pearl Road to speak to the heart of Old Brooklyn?
This article is part of our On the Ground - Old Brooklyn community reporting project in partnership with Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Cleveland Development Advisors, and Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Read the rest of our coverage here.