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The Seven Wonders of Charlotte Will Leave You in Awe

posted by Michael Solender March 15, 2017
Photo by Kyo H Nam Photography

The Queen City’s rich history, unique character and communal culture are represented in various public artworks that offer Charlotte a sense of place. With multilayered textures, colors and bearings acting as metaphors for the diverse tapestry of life here in Charlotte, the city’s works of public art embody our community. Some speak to the legacy of the city’s forbearers, others to the promise of our future, and others to the wonder and splendor of artistic creation. Here, we explore seven of the city’s most significant public art forms, each of which captures an important facet of Charlotte.

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Photo by Kyo H Nam Photography

The Firebird
Location: Bechtler Museum of Modern Art Plaza

Immediately upon its unveiling in 2009, Niki de Saint Phalle’s giant, whimsical, mirror-covered sculpture, The Firebird, was unofficially exalted with Charlotte landmark status. Ever-immortalized in countless Charlotte selfies, the gleaming “Disco Chicken,” as it’s been colloquially dubbed, is a photographer’s dream. Perched on the plaza at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, The Firebird (its actual artist’s title is “Le Grand Oiseau de Feu sur l’Arche” or “Large Firebird on an Arch”) draws in visitors. Day or night, the bird shines from any angle against the terra cotta-colored museum.


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Photo by Kyo H Nam Photography

Location: Intersection of Romany and Dilworth roads

Timeline by Robert Winkler holds a special place in the history of public art projects in Charlotte. Conceived, commissioned, organized and funded entirely by the Dilworth Community Association, the project rallied neighbors to create a lasting and memorable statement with this remarkable public art piece. The inspiration and raw materials for the project were both unearthed in 2009 when construction on East Boulevard revealed buried trolley tracks that had once carried suburbanites from Dilworth to Center City. Painted as a brilliant sunflower yellow, the Timeline rises from the ground and appears to sway from its Latta Park resting place near the intersection of Romany and Dilworth roads, giving the observer a sense of motion, regardless of the viewing angle. Go ahead and let the kids climb atop it; this is a piece of art that’s meant to be touched.


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Photo by Kyo H Nam Photography

The Sculptures at Independence Square
Location: Independence Square (Intersection of Trade and Tryon streets)

Flanking each corner of the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets—known as Independence Square—Charlotte’s historic trading crossroads and the highest elevation point in the city, are four 5,000-pound bronze sculptures towering atop 25-foot-high granite pedestals. They represent four facets of the city and are named Commerce, Industry, Transportation and Future. See if you can spot the hornet’s nest that rests at the base of Future—a veritable tip of the hat to the rebellious Revolutionary War nickname Charlotte was given by British General Charles Cornwallis.

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Photo by Washu Otaku

Location: Whitehall Corporate Center

One particular resident of South Charlotte’s Whitehall Corporate Center doesn’t go home at the end of the day with the rest of his officemates. In fact, he never leaves his post here, standing guard 24/7 through all kinds of weather. Of course that’s what we’ve come to expect from one of Charlotte’s most recognizable and curiously cool works of public art, David Cerny’s Metalmorphosis. The first public installation in America by Czech Republic-born Cerny, Metalmorphosis is a massive 31-foot-high, 14-ton, multisegmented head and fountain made of stainless steel. The 40-plus head segments rotate independently at 360 degrees and seemingly at will to create surreal, abstract images that engage the viewer from every angle.


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Photo by Kyo H Nam Photography

La Cascade
Location: The Carillon Building (West Trade Street)

An enormous kinetic mashup created by Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, La Cascade soars more than 40 feet high inside the lobby of Charlotte’s Carillon Building on West Trade Street. The fascinating and quirky assemblage of Charlotte artifacts, found objects, flashing lights, colored metal and rescued junk holds court in the lobby, surrounded by a rectangular fountain. Many of the discarded objects incorporated in the work hold special significance for Charlotte. The concrete lion’s head at the fountain level was recovered from the demolished Hotel Charlotte, which formerly occupied the site of the Carillon Tower. And Tinguely’s use of the tractor seat in the work is seen as a tribute to the Queen City’s agricultural roots.

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Photo by Kyo H Nam Photography
Photo by Kyo H Nam Photography

Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg
Location: Charlotte Douglas International Airport

It has long been thought that the Queen City’s namesake Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg, Germany, (wife of Great Britain’s King George III) was a diminutive monarch; some records state she was less than 5 feet tall. When he created a statue of Queen Charlotte’s likening, sculptor Raymond J. Kaskey (also responsible for the Sculptures at Independence Square here in the city) wanted to be sure that, despite her petite frame, no one missed her greeting upon arrival at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. So he made her larger than life—much larger. The 20-foot-high Queen reigned atop a tall pedestal, just outside the arrival doors at the airport from the time of her installation in 1990 to early 2013, when she was relocated due to airport construction and expansion. Currently, she sits not far from her original home, waiting patiently in between the east and west daily decks in an airy courtyard.

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Photo by Kyo H Nam Photography

Location: Intersection of Josh Birmingham and Billy Graham parkways

One of Charlotte’s most recent entrants onto the public art stage is Ascendus. Created by Oregon-based artist Ed Carpenter in 2012, it rests precariously at a tilted angle near Charlotte Douglas International Airport’s entrance, just off Josh Birmingham Parkway and its intersection with Billy Graham Parkway. Ascendus resembles a huge wing or giant alien spacecraft and appears ready to take flight at the slightest provocation, which adds to its mysterious allure. Charlotte’s position as a top international airport hub and significant transportation crossroads makes the area an important locale for inspiring public art.

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For more public art splendors in Charlotte, visit

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