Potomac Elementary parents have often said they would like cars to slow down while passing the school on River Road. Traffic-calming signs haven’t helped, but the newest fixture outside the school seems to be doing the trick.
Drivers are tapping the breaks to see “Night Boat,” the nearly 20-foot-tall steel sculpture that became part of the River Road landscape in front of the school earlier this month.
Students, parents and local dignitaries met at the school Nov. 2 to dedicate the sculpture, designed last year by Montgomery County artist David Hubbard and assembled over three months beginning last spring.
The “two Julies” — Potomac Elementary parents Julie Goss and Julie Dobson — secured grant money from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, supplemented by private donations to bring the artwork to the school.
The parents placed notices in artists’ publications and narrowed the applicants from more than a dozen to three before selecting Hubbard. Hubbard then took suggestions from students for an artwork that would encapsulate part of the spirit of Potomac, and met with a parent-teacher committee to select a design.
The result is a sculpture mixing aquatic curves and the angular elements of the titular boat, a concept befitting Potomac’s river setting. Hubbard said that as a canoeist, he particularly liked the theme.
“It’s land and water and night and day — a lot of the major elements. I think it kind of represents that we’re Potomac,” said fifth-grader Haley Goss-Holmes, Goss’ daughter.
“It was kind of hard to know what it was at first. But then after I knew what it was I could see it,” said fifth-grader Samantha Klein. “It makes it look more interesting.”
Hubbard, who lives in Silver Spring, became an artist in the early 1980s. He had originally pursued psychology, but lost interest and took up sculpting when he worked for five years in an ironworks. He would stay after work and weld small sculptures from scraps.
He was paid $10,000 for the Potomac Elementary piece, but said that a work of that size would normally cost $30,000 or more. He worked for less both as a service to the school and because the commission helped him build a portfolio of larger works and take a new direction in his art, he said.
“It’s hard for a sculptor who doesn’t have anything sold or a show coming up. There’s no guarantee you’ll ever see any return,” he said. “Night Boat,” which he assembled from flat steel sheets over more than three months, “made it possible to change directions,” he said.
Some students said they didn’t precisely understand the sculpture, but most agreed that it makes the school more beautiful.
“All the teaching to the test, and all the rigid standards — it’s nice to come out here and see some arts and humanities. We don’t do enough of it,” said Del. Brian Feldman (D-15), who attended the dedication.
Getting students to take an interest in different kinds of art was exactly the point Potomac Elementary Principal Linda Goldberg said.
Hubbard gave a presentation on sculpture last year and since then teachers have incorporated the sculpture project into lessons.
At the same time, the sculpture is something the larger Potomac community can enjoy.
“I love the way it reveals itself as you get closer to the school, as you turn in. It becomes even more powerful,” Goss said. The sculpture’s luminous surface also plays in the light, giving it different characteristics at different times of day.
Goss and others said that as far as they know, “Night Boat” is the first public artwork in Potomac.
The sculpture’s potential to become a well-known fixture in Potomac benefits the community, the school and the students, Goldberg said.
“Driving down the street when they have grandchildren, they’re going to say, ‘I was there. I met the artist,’” she said.
“I just hope that the sculpture will inspire the kids. That was my goal from the beginning,” Hubbard said at the dedication “I’m glad you picked me and thank you.”