CEDAR RAPIDS — Visitors to the Linn County Courthouse will soon be sitting pretty.
Woodworking artist John Schwartzkopf of Schwartzkopf Fine Woodworking recently put the finishing touches on 22 interior benches for the courthouse.
The new benches – one element of the courthouse’s $8.5 million renovation – are functional art that will add much-needed seating to the public space.
“Public spaces are places where people are waiting for something,” says Schwartzkopf, 63, of Cedar Rapids. “They’re waiting for court, they’re waiting to fill out paperwork or they’re waiting for a flight. Public art adds a sense of humanity to the space. It makes it more enjoyable.”
Each bench is 10 feet long. The seats are made from two locally cut cherry trees. The base – a mix of walnut, white oak and some cherry – is lumber Schwartzkopf had in his workshop which, like the courthouse, took on water during the Floods of 2008.
“It’s an appropriate place to use this wood, in a place that was flooded,” Schwartzkopf says.
The connection doesn’t stop there. The design of each bench reflects the courthouse building and its surroundings. The base of each bench incorporates the courthouse’s exterior columns and mirrors the arches on the bridges that connect May’s Island to both banks of the Cedar River.
“It’s beautiful,” says Linn County Supervisor Lu Barron. “It isn’t something you expect to see in a courthouse. And it’s functional, which I love.”
The Linn County Board of Supervisors approved Schwartzkopf’s design last fall as part of their ordinance to spend up to 1 percent of a capital project’s budget on public art.
Other public spaces that have benefited from the program include the Community Services Building of Linn County, the Jean Oxley Linn County Public Service Center, the Wickiup Hill Learning Center and the Juvenile Justice Center.
The total cost for this project is $68,000.
Schwartzkopf isn’t sure when he’ll install the benches at the courthouse. Barron says they can be installed on the second and the third floors of the courthouse at any time. First floor installation will take place in early summer.
“I walked to the courthouse a few times before I submitted my design,” says Schwartzkopf, who has made woodworking his full-time profession for 30 years. “I wanted to see how people used the space. Public art works best when it enhances the space.”