The Bridge of Flowers May Be Aglow with Red, Blue Neon Lights

West County News - Clark Johnson

Imagine a purple aura beneath the Bridge of Flowers with red and blue arches reflecting off the clear water of the Deerfield River, setting the familiar West County icon in a subtle halo of colored light.

This is the dream of local neon artist Tony Palumbo of Colrain, and he is getting closer to seeing it realized.

The renowned artist calls his project a temporary neon art installation and has picked the famous bridge because of its European style Romanesque design.

"I am interested in this bridge because of its unique design with particular emphasis on its Romanesque arches, which lends itself so well to the effect I know it will achieve," said Mr. Palumbo.

It is meant to be a special art based project intended for the pleasure of the residents. Once installed, assuming all needed approval and money is in hand, the neon lights will be left for about 13 months.

"It will surely attract visitors to the community that relies so much on tourism for its income, and provide a focus on the resident artistic talent in this particular area of Massachusetts," he said.

Palumbo emphasized that he will not go forward with the groups in Shelburne Falls and the needed grant money and donations to pay for the project. "I don't want to go over anyone's head so I have been contacting various groups for their approval." That approval is already forthcoming from several interest groups including the Shelburne Falls Women's Club Bridge of Flowers Committee.

Mr. Palumbo said he met with this group that is responsible for making the bridge a flowering attraction every summer. This group voted to back the neon light project in October, 2000.

Other groups lending their support are the Shelburne Falls Area Business Association, the Art Bank, the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA). Mr. Palumbo said that Mass MoCA's interest and support will help bring art fans east toward Shelburne Falls from their museum in North Adams. "They have offered to have brochures at their museum," he said.

A letter from the director of the Art Bank, Myra Lenburg, said the project "will be adding a whole new dimension of beauty to our local treasure. His project is exciting and would surely be an attraction in itself." Yet to be heard from, said Mr. Palumbo, is the Shelburne Falls Water District Commissioners. Because they have ownership of the bridge their approval could prove critical to moving forward.

The project, although large, is quite simple. Outlining the arches of the bridge will be glowing neon tubes on both sides of the bridge. On the side seen from the Iron Bridge the neon lights will be red and the other side will be blue lights. Mr. Palumbo said that the two colors will create a purple aura underneath the bridge.

Estimated cost of the project will be $70,000. Most of the money will come from private donations from people who have expressed an interest in the project, and from grants. It will cost $50,000 for the installation and fabrication of the neon. An additional $20,000 is to be allotted for it removal.

It will take about a month to install. All the electrical connections need to be installed first and when the flowers are still dormant. The actual lights can be installed when the flowers are growing. Mr. Palumbo said that only small holes need be drilled in the bridge to mount the lights and those holes will be repaired after the lights are removed. The electric bills will also be paid by the money raised for the installation.

Mr. Palumbo said that initially the idea was to move forward with the project this spring but that appears unlikely at this time. He said it would probably be more feasible to start the next year

"I believe that this project is a good thing because it will show that a small community like Shelburne Falls is a leader in new ways of expressing what I call 'living art'," said Mr. Palumbo. "My project may seem odd but how odd it must have seemed when it was suggest that it become a bridge of flowers. But I believe people gravitate to beauty."

The graceful arches of the Bridge of Flowers may soon have neon lights attached to them.