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Posted on Sat, Jun 23, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Ann Arbor's Golden Paintbrush awards go to 3 artists who've inspired others through public art

By Ryan J. Stanton


David Zinn sketches a quick scene in the street, depicting Sluggo plugging a flying house into the sun, during the Mayor's Green Fair on Main Street earlier this month.

Ryan J. Stanton |

For anyone who spends much time walking around downtown Ann Arbor, it's hard not to have stumbled across one of David Zinn's whimsical sidewalk chalk drawings.

They often depict the adventures of a little green guy named Sluggo, who might be found playing in a pile of leaves, hanging out with a flying pig, or simply taking a coffee break.

In the artist's own words, they're lighthearted and trivial, and soothingly self-destructing. That is, they're meant to be temporary, to wash away with the next rain.


Another one of Zinn's surprise sidewalk drawings in downtown Ann Arbor.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"He realized how satisfying it was to create temporary art in locations where it's just not expected — where you happen across it, where many people might not notice the drawing at all, but those who did sort of get that extra satisfaction of just looking in the right direction and getting that moment of surprise," said Marsha Chamberlin, chairwoman of the city's Public Art Commission.

Zinn and two other local artists were announced as this year's winners of the Public Art Commission's annual Golden Paintbrush Awards during Monday night's Ann Arbor City Council meeting.

The awards are given in recognition of public artworks that add interest to the cityscape, beautify the community and create a sense of place.

The two other awardees this year are University of Michigan art professor Jim Cogswell and Margaret Parker, who served on the Public Art Commission up until recently.

Cogswell was recognized for his large-scale mural work, dubbed the "Enchanted Beanstalk," at the new C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital. The monumental piece features imagery cut from vinyl and affixed to 660 windows on eight stories of the hospital.

"It covers 11,000 square feet of glass," Chamberlin said. "The designs are applied to the interior of the windows and are configured so that, when visible from the outside, they form an intricate, woven tapestry and connect between the levels by a clinging vine and other sort of rhythmic, sequential elements. The vines evoke the story of 'Jack and the Beanstalk.' "

At night, Chamberlin said, the mural enlivens the exterior of the building from a considerable distance. And from the inside, the vinyl is translucent. Under the direct sunlight of west-facing windows, she said, it has the effect of stained glass in the late afternoons.

The vinyl was fabricated by a local professional graphic shop and installed by Cogswell with the help of a student assistant over a period of six months

Cogswell has a number of other large-scale public artworks locally, including at the Bailey Library at Washtenaw Community College and at U-M's Ross School of Business.

Parker was recognized for her instrumental role in advancing public art in the city over the past several years and service with the Public Art Commission, including serving as its chair.

"There's probably not a public official in this room or anyone who has an ounce of civic interest or pride who has not been visited by Margaret Parker as she strove to create a vision for public art and a public art program in our city," Chamberlin said.


A scene from Jim Cogswell's mural on the Mott Children's Hospital.

Courtesy photo

Chamberlin described Parker as impassioned, tireless and selfless in her dedication to public art, with a vision and enthusiasm that's been contagious.

"Through her efforts, the Public Art Commission was established," she said, giving Parker credit for attracting funding and working with city staff to develop a public art program.

"She was a guide to fellow commissioners on best practices," she said. "She worked with our first public art administrator to really get the business procedures and policies and establish the credibility of the public art program with artists and ensure the city excellent outcomes."

Chamberlin added, "She kept rolling with it for seven years and today we have a strong program that has built momentum, is getting results, so what more could you ask for?"

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


Stephen Landes

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 4:52 p.m.

I drove past city hall today and noted the artistic piece of scrap metal being displayed to passersby. I thought this was to be a fountain, but it is dry, dusty looking, no longer the color it was when erected, and, frankly, ugly. If there is any water flowing it is not apparent from street-side. It just sticks up there with no apparent purpose or function. I would say the public art program, of which this piece is certainly the most expensive and visible, is a waste of money. How typical of these things that the insiders are giving themselves awards for pleasing themselves with other people's money.


Sat, Jun 23, 2012 : 5:49 p.m.

We have some of the worst public art in the nation right here in AA. I wonder if it's the bad water or decent artists just make more money elsewhere. Sculpture seems especially hard hit, generally better off in a local dumpster then a park.

Patti Smith

Sat, Jun 23, 2012 : 4:17 p.m.

I love the Sluggos that I see (and make sure I don't step on :)) around town! Let me say this again and say it loud: I WISH I COULD DRAW! But since I can't, I'm glad for folks who can and who share their talent :)

Dog Guy

Sat, Jun 23, 2012 : 2:23 p.m.

Diverting public funds from their voted purposes is indeed an art (taught by Professor Fagin). Let us gather in a circle and give each other awards.


Sat, Jun 23, 2012 : 12:56 p.m.

I have no problem with this commission or the awards except that Margaret Parker, should not get one! I like this line "giving Parker credit for attracting funding and working with city staff to develop a public art program." Attracting Funding-which means that 1% of the capital budget or $250,000 goes to this commission. Why do we have to fund this? Another example of Liberals/Progressive/Democrats spending other people money because they are Too Cheap to fund it themselves!


Sat, Jun 23, 2012 : 11:47 a.m.

I have really enjoyed seeing the places where Zinn has "struck" around town. His sense of whimsy always puts a smile on my face.