Unzipping potential

The Big Zipper Pop-Up Art Gallery held its grand opening on Friday, Nov. 11 and remained open through Thursday, Nov. 17.

Steve Prince, assistant professor of art and artist-in-residence at Allegheny College, designed the Big Zipper as a catalyst to bring the community together through collaborative artwork.

“It works on the power of the collective,” said Prince. “No matter what the skill level is, when [the individual pieces are] juxtaposed to each other in that particular space, they come together, and they create this kind of visual harmony.”

In the creation of this design, Prince looked to the community for inspiration.

The zipper—as we know it today—was invented in Meadville by Talon Zipper, a fashion design company. Talon zipper was based in Meadville and was the city’s main industry until it went bankrupt in the late 1970s. Today nothing remains of Talon Zipper in Meadville except for a few run-down factories and an all but forgotten legacy.

“Most of the stuff that we create comes out of stuff that we know and we understand,” Prince said.

Prince set out to create a project that could foster revitalization through experiential art-making.

“He gets people excited about something that they never thought that they would be doing, which is relief wood cut printing,” said Darren Miller, chair of the art department and gallery director at Allegheny. “In as much as he’s teaching people to draw, or how to use that material, he’s just getting people to engage with each other and have a conversation.”

The art piece originally consisted of four 8-foot by 4-foot sections, with each section being comprised of wooden stamps that were created by members of the community.

Each section took about five months of carving workshops to create. Over the past two years, roughly 40 of these workshops have been held, with as many as 100 people to as few as four attending each workshop.

The opening on Friday revealed that eight more sections had been added, bringing the zipper to a total of 96-feet in length. In addition to the zipper, the gallery featured work from several neighborhood artists ranging from kindergarteners to Alfonso Fugagli, an artist of regional fame and a native of Meadville born in 1912.

The Big Zipper Project and the art gallery were designed to create a sense of community within the Meadville area.

Peanut Improv, Brookside Yoga, Purple Fox Games and the Meadville Time Trade all took advantage of this idea. Nearly 300 community members showed up to the grand opening on Friday.

“Putting together the gallery I think is really exciting because you get to … be a little bit of a detective,” said Lee Scandinaro, ’15. “You can’t just use a spot because it’s available—there has to be a reason, and some of that detective work I think is kind of fun, like investigating who owns it, what’s the history behind it, how did it get to where it is now, why is it unoccupied and what could bringing something like the Big Zipper and this big gallery be?”

Scandaniro is the community coordinator for the Meadville Neighborhood Center, and the organizer of last year’s pop-up gallery

This year’s gallery was just one event of a larger endeavor that stretches far into the future with the ultimate goal being to brand the city and unite it around a cultural icon.

Prince plans to begin by creating a “Zipper Walk” by displaying more of these pieces in different businesses around the city. When people come to town they can go around and find the different puzzle pieces, which will encourage them to walk around town and go into different businesses.

Prince has set out to figuratively transform the streets of Meadville and he also literally wants to reconstruct the crosswalks.

“Instead of having the little double lines that denote where people walk across the street, imagine we took that street up and replaced it with bricks that looked like zippers, so you’ve got this whole idea of connectivity as you cross the street,” Prince said.

His projects all symbolize the community coming together, but Prince understands that the symbolism would be hollow unless we utilize resources and talent that are original to Meadville.

“It’s all about taking what’s already here and repurposing it,” said Prince. “The zipper company may be gone, but the spirit of the zipper is still here.”