When you walk into the new Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport, you’ll be welcomed to the Air Capital of the World.
And although the terminal won’t open until April, the history exhibits and public art that will be displayed inside are in their final stages.
“A lot of people say, ‘Yeah, you’re the Air Capital of the World. How do you claim that?’ So we decided to tell our story, and it really hasn’t been told anywhere in Wichita, which is kind of crazy,” said Sonia Greteman, president of Greteman Group, a branding agency that has overseen the projects.
“The story is so rich and so diverse and it deserves to be told, and what better place to tell it than the airport?”
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For Greteman Group, the process of collecting information and designing the history exhibit – and selecting an artist to create an expansive light sculpture – will have lasted 10 years by the time the terminal is completed.
“We’re right at the end now,” said Deanna Harms, executive vice president of Greteman Group. The project has been a “labor of love.”
Last week, those involved with the project were able to see the first completed prototype of the history exhibit “pods,” which are reminiscent of wings and stand 10 feet by 11 feet each. They are being manufactured by Image Resources of Wichita.
“It was extremely exciting for me to see up close the fruits of nearly 10 years of planning,” said Victor White, director of airports for the City of Wichita.
“When we started this project back in 2004, we had a vision, a concept for providing a way to show the public the rich history of Wichita aviation. These displays will be spectacular in the new terminal, and I predict it will be one of the most popular features of the new building.”
The history exhibits will be displayed as six pods, with information on both sides about:
The Air Capital
Two of the pods will have TV monitors with video that can be updated over time with the most current offerings from the manufacturers.
“This is not a temporary display like you see in a museum. It’s intended to be permanent,” White said.
In order to gather all of the information for the exhibits, Harms said they had to connect with the historical society, the Kansas Aviation Museum, the aviation manufacturers and others in the community. They created an advisory group to help determine what information would be included.
“There are so many aviation aficionados in Wichita,” Harms said. “People know their stuff and are very passionate about it. We wanted to make sure we had all of the facts right and don’t look overlook anything.”
The original wording for the displays was approved in 2009. But changes in Wichita aviation – like Boeing leaving and the merger of Beechcraft into Textron – created some challenges as history itself was being made.
Additional exhibits will be seen once passengers go through security to the concourse. There, three displays each 20 feet long will tell the stories of Clyde Cessna and Walter Beech as well as highlight the variety of aircraft built in Wichita over the years and compare their sizes.
About 300,000 aircraft have been built in Wichita, Harms said.
“We are as a community pretty humble, and I think this is an opportunity to proudly proclaim where we’ve been and where we’re going,” Harms said.
The exhibits and art for the terminal will cost about half a million dollars each, White said, which in total is about 1 percent of the construction budget for the building itself.
While it’s not required, it’s fairly common for major public construction projects to have 1 percent of the budget allocated to art, White said. The funds for the art come from the airport project budget, not taxpayer dollars from the city or federal government, he said.
Ed Carpenter, an artist based in Portland, Ore., was hired to create the public art that will span more than the length of a football field through the airport.
The 330-foot-long piece – which he is in the process of constructing – will arch over the airport’s mezzanine from the ticketing area to the baggage claim.
It is made from dichroic safety glass, stainless steel cables and turnbuckles and cellular polycarbonate. The materials create a “color shift” so that it changes color in different light, Carpenter says.
“It suggests a wing – not a literal wing – but has wing-like qualities, the feeling or images or memories of wings or aviation in general,” he said. “I wanted to not only evoke ascent, but also descent because the sweeping form rises up and comes back down again, like the magic of rising into the sky. The miracle of flight, really.”
Carpenter said he plans to come to Wichita to install the art in early 2015 before the terminal opens.
“My goal is to make something that people will love in the year that it opens, the month that it opens, the day that it opens, but also something that people are going to love in 25 years,” he said. “I try to make something that has timeless and universal qualities but is specific to this community.
“I wanted to make something like nothing else you’ve seen in the world so that when you come home or arrive you see it and you can say, ‘I’m in Wichita. I recognize that.’”