It’s a sun-filled, windy day in Austin, and Ann Armstrong is taking long strides. The San Francisco-raised artist, who runs the studio ANN MADE out of a warehouse in East Austin, is giving us a tour of her adopted city.
Though you might not realize it, you more than likely have seen the work of this “architect-turned-maker.” For instance, her Stem Racks — those cool, foliage-inspired bike racks that can be found in the Second Street district — are just one example of Armstrong’s work, which includes murals, street art, sculpture, furniture and more. And now, as part of her most recent project, Austin Atlas, Armstong is adding a series of self-guided walking tours to her impressive multimedia list.
All it takes is the first step, and a whole world of back alleys, street art and hidden gems await the one willing to walk.
The first stop on our tour is mural just west of Vintage Heart Coffee on East Seventh Street. What started as a project to capture a passing moment Armstrong noticed one twilight hour — the shadows of trees on the white wall of an architecture studio on East Seventh Street — has now become a collaboration between the original muralists and another person, whom Armstrong describes as “a thoughtful SXSW tagger who added a bird to the tree, a power line and the sun.”
This sweet-natured response to what most might find annoying — their work being tagged by a stranger — is indicative of Armstrong's concept behind these tours. She's interested in the unexpected, the surprising and the underrepresented. We continue on foot for about an hour and a half, Armstrong taking the time to talk about what she calls "interstitial spaces" with sincere curiosity and scholarly enthusiasm.
When she moved to Austin to study at UT, Armstrong was struck by how few people walk around here. And it’s true: Ours is not a pedestrian city; sidewalks appear and disappear for no clear reason except, perhaps, neglect. As Armstrong is eager to point out, though, all it takes is the first step, and a whole world of back alleys, street art and hidden gems await the one willing to walk.
With her Ephemeral East Austin Tour that captures fleeting moments in time, such as the strip of light that appears under the Tillery Street bridge at solar noon, or the Street Art Tour that points out art both found and created, Armstrong’s elegantly mapped-out journeys offer an opportunity to engage with this city in a whole new way.
Because there is always something new to find when you slow down. Whether they are created (one of Briar Boniface's trademark smiles on a tree) or found (a forlorn face that appears in a particular fire hydrant), to stumble upon the small moments on Armstong's tour brings a sense of joy and connectivity that is clearly lacking in our car-centric culture. It is precisely this sense of exploration that Armstrong hopes to foster.
For us, all it took was one afternoon walking around a neighborhood we thought we knew to remind us that it is the places in-between that are often the most rewarding.
Austin Atlas Fabrications will hold a four-session mapping workshop on Saturdays beginning February 22. You can get more information and sign up here.
Here's more information on the places in the slideshow and mapped in this article:
1, 2: Ghandi and Our Lady Mosiac by Stefanie Distefano
Where: Cesar Chavez and Chicon
Date/Time Taken: January 2, 2014, 2 pm
Notes: A pretty awesome permanent piece that came out of Bridget Quinn’s Payphone Revival Project
3: Briar Bonifacio Face
Where: East Sixth and Pedernales
Date/Time Taken: January 3, 2014, 9:10 am
Notes: One of many anthropomorphized objects around East Austin
4: Tillery Street Totem
Where: Tillery Street near East Fifth
Date/Time Taken: January 3, 2014, 10:40 am
Notes: A totem that keeps watch over Tillery
5: Forlorn fire hydrant
Where: I-35 North and East Fifth Street
Date/Time Taken: May 13, 2013, 6pm
Notes: Whether you intend to or not, you might see faces everywhere, in everyday objects — such as this forlorn fire hydrant (aka Pareidolia).
6: Shadow Mural by Placing Routes
Where: East Seventh and Navasota
Date/Time Taken: September 3, 2013, 4 pm
Notes: This photo captures the unintended collaboration between a shadow of an existing tree cast by a street lamp and a couple of muralists who made the same shadow permanent.
7: The grave of Joseph Priour (a Texas sculptor that worked with stone and glass)
Where: Texas State Cemetery, 909 Navasota
Date/Time Taken: December 15, 2013, 3:40 pm
Notes: Unlike most gravestones, this one really captures light.
8, 9: Abandoned railroad spur, salvaged wood intervention by Nick Griffin
Where: Lyons and Springdale
Date/Time Taken: May 18, 2013, 2 pm
Notes: A mostly hidden path along an abandoned railroad track, made more usable by the careful placement of found and salvaged wood slats, flooring and such
10, 11: Bethany Cemetery
Where: Springdale Road, just north of East 12th
Date/Time Taken: January 2, 2014, 2:30 pm
Notes: A quiet and often overlooked respite from Springdale Road, a shortcut through the neighborhood and a way to revisit some of Austin’s history
12: Tannehill Branch (feeds into Boggy Creek)
Where: A winding path that runs North-ish to South-ish through the 78721 zip code
Date/Time Taken: 1/3/2014, 9:30 am
Notes: During drier months, the Tannehill Branch becomes a winding subgrade path through the neighborhood, passing under roads, through drainage tunnels and in and out of parks.
13: Railroad spur/line