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Council has reservations about filbert sculptures

Leaders worry nut sculptures could make Tigard the butt of jokes

by: SUBMITTED - The Tigard City Council will go ahead with plans to build 14-foot-tall sculptures of filberts on Main Street despite concerns that the sculptures may resemble male genitalia.If artist Brian Borello was looking for a rousing endorsement from the Tigard City Council on Tuesday night, he didn’t get it.

The Portland artist, charged with building the city’s first public art project, announced this month that he wanted to build 14-foot-tall sculptures of filbert seeds at each end of Main Street.

The project is expected to cost $60,000. Those plans were approved earlier this month by Tigard’s City Center Advisory Commission.

But while city councilors said they liked the idea, they were concerned having a pair of nuts on Main Street could get people’s minds wandering.

Filberts growing on a tree“I’m not below going to high school-boy-level thinking,” City Councilor Jason Snider told Borello at Tuesday’s meeting. “I wonder how this plays, with two nuts sitting at each end of Main Street and whether we become the butt of jokes that I’m guessing you can imagine. Do you imagine two (nuts) at each end?”

The final designs for the sculptures are being worked out, but Borello’s plans call for at least two large sculptures at the intersection of Main Street and Greenburg Road and two more near Johnson Street.

The 14-foot-tall nuts will pulse with a reddish glow at night.

Borello said he didn’t find the designs to be “particularly testicular,” but the city’s downtown redevelopment manager Sean Farrelly said he had heard similar concerns from residents.

“I used to be a middle school teacher, so these things do occur to me,” Farrelly said.

To combat the issue, Farrelly and Tigard Mayor John L. Cook said the city would look into increasing the budget slightly to install at least three nut sculptures at each end of Main Street.

“We’re going to work really hard to get three at each end,” Farrelly said. “As (filberts) grow, they do come in clusters of two, three, four or five, so adding one makes a lot of sense.”

The city commissioned art last year to help spruce things up near downtown. Paid for through the city’s urban renewal fund, the sculptures are meant to be the first in several art projects completed in the next few years.

Whatever is built, the art will help brand downtown, said Councilor Marc Woodard, who wondered if this was what should welcome people downtown.

“I can see the headlines now ‘This just in, Tigard is nuts,’” Woodard said. “I like what you have got, but I don’t know that it’s quite the right thing.”

For that matter, Snider asked, is it something people will understand?

Historically, filbert orchards were common across the city, and the Oregon Hazelnut Commission was based in town for many years, but there is some concern that the city’s connection to the nut is not as strong as it was.

“Is this going to be recognizable by 60,000 people who drive by there twice a day?” asked Councilor Marland Henderson.

Borello admitted the designs are subtler than traditional public art, but said they capture the spirt and history of the city.

“It’s nature, and it’s majestic, but it is elevated to a place of honor and respect,” he said. “It’s a little more mysterious, and it will make people scratch their heads, but that’s Main Street.”

In the end, the council allowed the project to go forward, despite its reservations.

“I have to trust the recommendations (of the City Center Advisory Commission) and believe that there are wiser people than me,” Woodard said. “The best case scenario is that I’ll see a nice piece of art, and I’ll like it. Anything else that you want to conjure up, that’s up to each individual.”

The sculptures are expected to be completed by winter and installed on Main Street when construction on the road wraps up sometime next year.

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