Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Haverhill man's artwork inspires cleanup

By Jason Tait
Eagle-Tribune Writer

HAVERHILL -- A local artist who floats "protest" pieces of artwork in downtown waterways wants $1,100 in state art "lottery" money to build a floating structure on the Merrimack River.

John D. "Jack" Welch's Haverhill sculpture would be a 20-foot-square floating park with benches, lights and fake grass moored within view of train commuters crossing the railroad bridge on the west side of downtown behind The Lasting Room restaurant.

He wants the city to pay more attention to its real parks, and the sculpture would remind them of the need because "it's going to stick out," he said.

The 1981 Haverhill High graduate is working on several floating sculpture projects and is prepared to put them in the water between May 15 and Oct. 15 in Haverhill, Lawrence, Newburyport and Boston.

He is already known for a gigantic shopping cart sculpture he moored in Lawrence's North Canal last summer. Residents reacted badly to the cart and it is back in his studio, he said.

"My rebuttal is that I'm going to make three huge pots of 17-foot-tall flowers," he said, describing his plans for the Lawrence canal this summer.

Welch does not need permission to float his park, but he will seek the City Council's blessing tonight to pay for it with funds administered by the city Cultural Council, which he co-chairs.

The council meets at 7 tonight in City Hall.

The floating park will cost nearly $5,000, with some of that money coming from his own pocket -- he works construction for a regular paycheck. He gets mooring licenses from the state for the projects, he said.

Welch, 39, whose studio is on Essex Street, tries to send a message with every sculpture.

In Chicago, he floated a full-size truck replica fit with a tire boot. He was angry that the city "booted" his car for parking infractions. He had to pay $1,200 to get the tire cuffs removed.

In Newburyport, he wants to moor a trailer home replica to protest the snobbery he sees there.

"Because they would never let that in that town," Welch said of his reasons for choosing a trailer. "The only way you can get one in is by floating it down the river."

In Boston, he wants to float a 20-foot-long couch painted red, white and blue because "we're pretty much couch potatoes in America."

Welch expects some people to dislike his floating structure in downtown Haverhill but said it will bring visitors downtown.