Paducah artist, volunteers erect giant sewing needle sculpture, unveiling to come soon
A western Kentucky artist and a team of volunteers erected a giant sewing needle sculpture years in the making in Paducah’s Lower Town Arts District Wednesday.
The 22-foot stainless steel needle now stands at the corner of North 5th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in the McCracken County seat’s Lower Town neighborhood.
Designed by local artist Michael Terra, the privately funded sculpture is meant to pay tribute to the city’s connection to fiber arts and to represent the interwoven nature of community.
“It’s a single thread that stitches us together. It’s not just clothing – but communities,” Terra said. “It's how we behave on the planet, how we use the resources and how we conserve them. It's this idea of stitching it all together, holding it together. When we sew, we don't ditch just a single piece of fabric. We take multiple pieces of fabric, and it's that stitching that holds them together, and ultimately gives them purpose.”
An over-40-foot steel thread will be attached to the needle in the coming weeks, finishing the public art piece and also creating a series of benches as the thread goes in and out of the ground.
Terra said he originally proposed the work to the National Quilt Museum in Paducah more than seven years ago, but there wasn’t funding available. He found patrons in western Kentucky’s Cappock family, who also own the building the sculpture stands next to in Paducah’s Lowertown neighborhood, in 2019.
What started as a sketch in Terra’s sketchbook took multiple years to become physically realized. He drew it, “did a lot of math and some engineering calculations,” rendered it in a drafting program and then consulted with engineers before sending his design to fabricators.
“I sent it off to the fabricator [in December 2019], and COVID happened. By the time I got the final stuff back from them, we were in lockdown. And that added a solid nine months.” Terra recalled. “Then, the cost of transportation quadrupled and then, after it got [to the U.S.], they delivered it to the wrong city. I had to battle with them to get it delivered to the right city.”
The difficulties of getting the piece installed will be worth it for Terra, though. He thinks public art creates a durable, positive impact in communities.
“What public art does for any community is it gives that community a sense of pride and ownership and you take care of the things that you're proud of,” he said. “Public art allows you to nonverbally say things about the quality of the place that you call home to people who are just driving by.”
Terra hopes to install the thread component of the sculpture and unveil the completed project by the end of June.