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    Artistic gateways will provide welcoming entrance to Overton Park's Old Forest

    Tom Charlier


    Functional though they may be, the decades-old iron vehicle gates that guard the Old Forest in Overton Park aren’t befitting of such a natural treasure, managers of the park in Midtown Memphis say.

    Come next year, new artistic entrances will beckon visitors to the 126-acre forest, which features old-growth trees and has been designated a State Natural Area.
    Through a competition that attracted nearly a dozen artists, three distinctive designs have been selected for gateways that will be installed at entrances to the forest near the picnic area off East Parkway, between the Rainbow Lake Playground and the dog park, and near the golf course club house. Construction will begin later this year and be completed in 2016.
    “Those current vehicle gates are very uninviting. They send the message of ‘Do not pass through,’” said Tina Sullivan, executive director of the Overton Park Conservancy, the private, nonprofit group that manages the park for the city.
    The three artists whose designs were selected are Yvonne Bobo, whose work has been featured in other parks and public spaces in the city, Ben Butler, an assistant professor of art at Rhodes College who has exhibited work in New York, Chicago and elsewhere, and Tylur French, an artist and sculptor whose works adorn such places as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and who also created the Bike Gate arch in Overton.
    Eric Bridges, director of operations and capital improvements for the conservancy, said the gateways will be welcoming to visitors “without overwhelming the natural beauty” of the forest.
    Each artist will receive $50,000, Sullivan said. That money, plus funds for engineering and permitting fees, is coming from park donors Henry and Lynne Turley and Bill and Becky Deupree.
    Henry Turley, a developer of Harbor Town and other high-profile projects, said he and Bill Deupree, the former president of Morgan Keegan who grew up near the park, were childhood friends who often played in the forest and had Boy Scout activities there. “It’s where I learned to pick up hickory sticks and build a fire real quick,” Turley said.