Creating public space: Nina Simone Plaza in Tryon

Published 4:43 pm Monday, August 10, 2009

After a month of focused effort, the Nina Simone Plaza is nearing completion. The Plaza, located at 54 South Trade Street, will soon be the home of sculptor Zenos Frudakis&squo;s over-life-size bronze sculpture of the internationally famed, Tryon-born chanteuse Nina Simone.

Frudakis&squo;s sculpture has recently been previewed in the nationally distributed magazines &uot;Jet&uot; and &uot;DownBeat.&uot; Subsequent periodical press coverage leading up to the sculpture dedication will include, among others, the internationally popular &uot;Jazziz&uot; magazine.

Formal dedication of the Nina Simone sculpture is scheduled for Feb. 21, 2010 ‐ Simone&squo;s birthday. More details will follow.

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The narrative of the making of the Nina Simone Plaza illustrates an amazing example of cooperation and community building between the private and corporate sectors.

The site location ‐ selected by Nina Simone Project (NSP) sculptor-of-record Zenos Frudakis ‐ is land owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad Corporation.

Extensive discussions in 2008 with the upper executive administration of Norfolk Southern resulted in a generous and extended lease to the NSP of the whole acreage falling between New Market, Pacolet, McCown and South Trade streets.

Having secured the site location at what is essentially Tryon&squo;s southern gateway, and knowing that all traffic turnabouts were to be abolished on state and federal highways, the issue then became merely one of design and implementation.

The concept design for the Nina Simone Plaza is by NSP executive director Crys Armbrust. The design builds upon a number of elements latent in the physical fabric of Tryon&squo;s downtown district, most notably the prominent use of stone as a building material.

Utilizing the circa 1970s stonework of the Hudson brothers around the magnolia tree as an anchor, the earlier work was mirrored with a gathering space connecting in between. The repeated use of midnight blue and autumn wheat stone purposefully reflects a metaphor central in Simone&squo;s life and activism ‐ the harmonious interaction among people of all races.

The curbing, derived in consultation with NCDOT, acts as a clearer delineation for the southbound traffic lanes of U.S. 176, which, incidentally, also comprises the N.C. Scenic Byway.

That definition is further enhanced by the 19th century wrought iron stanchions acquired from Dick&squo;s Castle in Upper New York State by Doug Arbogast of Tryon Auctions.

The inclusion of an obelisk in the plaza is a nod to Simone&squo;s lifelong moniker as the High Priestess of Soul. Its dimensions, based on the Wilcox needle in the old Tryon Cemetery, were copied by Armbrust, with the assistance of Grace Ingham.

The inscription on the obelisk reads &dquo;To honor the forgotten, the helpless, and the hopeless.&dquo; That phrase acknowledges a number of Simone&squo;s personal charities, namely cancer research in underserved communities, preventive programs to address abuse against women and funding support for A.I.D.S. research.

Another feature in the plaza is a re-circulating fountain which emulates the Park on Trade fountain and provides visual harmony throughout Tryon&squo;s central downtown design. The millstone in the fountain is a gift of University of Massachusetts professor Bonnie Strickland.

The whole of the new stonework surround has been accomplished by the expertise of Herbert Jackson and his T.H. Masonry crew from Rutherfordton.

Assistance for required stone removal was donated by Dennis Nagle&squo;s crew of Mountain View Sunrooms & Screens. And Henson&squo;s Inc. should be recognized for its donation of partial costing on materials.

The appointments in the Nina Simone Plaza include four donated benches. Two of them are of the same design adopted by the TDDA for the central downtown district; they have been donated by George & Wanda May and Bernice Ravan. The remaining two benches are of single-run, seven-foot-long granite and have been designed and donated by Kathleen Carson of Simply Irresistible Gallery and Bill Crowell of Saluda Forge.

Many individuals and companies have given of their time, talent and treasure to accomplish in the Nina Simone Plaza a world-class memorial by a world-class sculptor of a world-class performance artist. After many years, Nina Simone makes a final return to her birthplace ‐ echoing the words and sentiments of her Rudy Stevenson cover: &dquo;I&squo;m Going Back Home.&dquo;

Prior to the Simone sculpture&squo;s installation and dedication, Frudakis&squo;s full-sized model will make a brief appearance in Tryon in September, when the sculpture will be sited, photographs will be taken for &uot;Jazziz&uot; magazine, and a reception will be held for the NSP&squo;s steering committee and &uot;Club of 200&uot; members.

To learn more about how you might participate in the Nina Simone Project, visit