Art in the Wild: The Kerrytown Arch

Sculpture is "symbolic gate" from Ann Arbor's downtown

The Kerrytown Arch by sculptor and UM graduate David Heberling.

Strolling through Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown area, you might notice the large, erratically structured arch standing on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Catherine Street, in the plaza known as Sculpture Park. Whether you’re on the way to the Smoothie King or are searching for place to sit down for a moment at one of the surrounding tables, this cubist entryway merits a closer look.

The Kerrytown Arch was created by University of Michigan graduate David Heberling in 1977. According to “Public Art in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County” by Martha Keller and Michael Curtis, it serves as a “symbolic gate” between the downtown business district and Kerrytown, akin to “triumphal archs” the Romans constructed to mark their conquests in ancient Italy, France, North Africa and Asia.

Modifying the original idea of the arch, Heberling employed the concepts of not just cubism, but also minimalism and modernist abstraction. Made of Cor-Ten steel and painted black, the Arch stands 18 feet high and consists of the usual elements – two vertical supporting legs and a horizontal connecting piece at the top. However, the sculpture’s “legs” are asymmetrical. One of them appears to be made up of several block-like chunks. Similar “ponderous” blocks combine to create the horizontal, connecting component, Keller and Curtis write.

The sculpture stands at the center of a brick plaza on the street corner, circled by metal tables. According to Keller and Curtis, the plaza was designed by Ann Arbor Tomorrow, a citizens’ planning group, and landscape architect Clarence Roy. Workers were employed through the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act.

Last year the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission renovated the Arch – a project that cost nearly $30,000. The commission is considering holding a rededication ceremony for the sculpture sometime later this year.

Heberling’s Arch is comparable to the Gateless Gate at Washtenaw Community College, which also serves as a symbolic entrance. However, Keller and Curtis call the area surrounding the Arch more “amiable” that the one around the Gate.

“The plaza is a place to rest for a moment, converse with friends or watch the parade of passerby,” the authors write. “The focal point of the sculpture provides another reason to pause – to enjoy a moment of visual refreshment, to see something unique in the world.”

About the author: Helen Nevius, a student at Eastern Michigan University, is an intern with The Ann Arbor Chronicle. 


  1. By Colleen M
    July 6, 2009 at 9:34 am | permalink

    The bricks in the plaza are from the original brick paving on Detroit street, which was closed to create the park. If you look at the storefronts, you can see the corner where Detroit Street intersected Fourth a short way down. There was a small triangular traffic island where the park is now.

    The bricks were removed, cleaned and stacked by neighborhood residents and other volunteers before the construction work began. Then they were re-used to create the surface for the park.

  2. July 6, 2009 at 1:24 pm | permalink

    An addition to this story…. the Ann Arbor DDA & City Parks Dept worked in partnership to completely renovate Sculpture Plaza in 2007. The project included relaying all the bricks to address trip hazards and slippery conditions that had arisen over time, redesigning and expanding the two planters to improve sightlines and to encourage more greenery, removing a street light that had impeded pedestrians on the N. 4th Ave edge, replacing all the tables and installing many more seats, bike hoops, trash cans and recycle containers. An additional project partner to thank – the People’s Food Coop continues to take responsibility for the moveable chairs and tables purchased for this project, locking them up at night/releasing them in the morning. This generous gesture has been a wonderful element in the Plaza’s rebirth and a much appreciated donation on behalf of the community.

  3. By John Hilton
    July 6, 2009 at 4:24 pm | permalink

    The black paint was also part of the renovation–Cor-Ten was supposed to be self-protecting, but wasn’t. I just took a close look at “Gateless Gate” last week, and there’s no question, it’s a lot less “amiable”–I felt like a mouse dodging a mousetrap.

  4. July 6, 2009 at 4:34 pm | permalink

    I think this is a fine sculpture, and I like the idea that original paving bricks cover the plaza. But I never felt this plaza was “amiably” landscaped. A few low shrubs and flowers would have helped a lot, making it less cold, even in winter. And couldn’t the sculpture have been refinished in some way other than black paint?