Project transforms traffic box into work of art

Area artist Cynthia Young paints a traffic control box at the intersection of 106th Street and Zionsville Road earlier this fall as part of an ongoing public art project organized by the Zionsville Cultural District and city officials.

ZIONSVILLE – When local artist Cynthia Young heard the Town of Zionsville and the Zionsville Cultural District (ZCD) were calling for a public art project with a dahlia theme, she knew she was the right person for the job.

“I knew they were looking for artists for that project and I asked if I could submit an idea for it, so I did,” she said. “I knew in advance that they wanted a dahlia theme, with Dahlia (Street) just down the way, so I created something that celebrated it.”

Located just west of Dahlia Street, on the southeast corner of the intersection of 106th Street and Zionsville Road, a typically-gray traffic control box now welcomes visitors with a colorful display of blue, yellow and gold paintings of dahlia flowers.

“It means a lot to me … and it was fun, I love doing community paintings,” she said.

The dahlia pinnata plant, though not native to Indiana, has been a long-time staple of Zionsville culture since the 1920s when it was known as The Dahlia City, thanks to two nurseries called Tudor Gardens and Parkway Gardens that featured the decorative plant.

Originating in Mexico with warm temperatures year-round, the flower must be transplanted to an indoor environment when the harsh Indiana winters settle in.

With this single piece of art, however, the dahlia can now be featured in Zionsville around the calendar year as it is in its native region.

“The ZCD is thrilled to bring to the community another piece of public art,” ZCD president Carla Howie said. “We would like to thank the Town of Zionsville for (its) continued support and partnership as we work to fulfill our vision to make art obvious for our community and tourists.

“We would also like to thank Young for capturing the beauty of the dahlia and its historical significance to Zionsville.”

Mayor Tim Haak also weighed in on the project.

“This is another great public art partnership between the Town and ZCD, and over the next few years, we hope to add more painted boxes,” he said. “Public art projects like this one and the Lincoln mural not only add to the town’s culture and quality of place, but build a sense of community.”

Featured in Young’s painting is what is known as the “Zion’s Pride” flower. In 1933, Parkway Gardens owner Fred Gresh put on display his hybrid Zion’s Pride dahlia at the World’s Fair in Chicago, winning the coveted gold medal for his exhibit.

Parkway Gardens was originally located where Eagle Elementary School currently stands.

Tudor Gardens was at the current intersection of Fifth and Ash streets.

Young said it was an honor to be selected to paint what the partnership sees as the first of many painted traffic boxes in Zionsville.

However, like the dahlia plant, Young needed to get her project in before the cold months arrived.

“I started painting in August and I finished a week before it was due,” she said. “I worked on it when I could because I know how the weather can be. Any day I had around 60 (degrees), I was out there. In the spring I’ll put a couple more final coats on it.”

Other public art projects painted by Young in the Zionsville area include the Walking Man sculpture on West Oak Street and a mural inside the cafeteria at Pleasant View Elementary School.

To learn more about the current traffic box project, call Zionsville Town Hall at 317-873-8245 or the ZCD via the SullivanMunce Cultural Center at 317-873-4900.

Those interested may also visit the ZCD website at zvillecd.org.

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