That what skeptics thought of Roger Milliken’s plan to have an airside garden occupying prime airline terminal space at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP).
The late Spartanburg textile magnate and long-serving GSP chairman’s idea was born of his own pleasant experience sitting in a “biergarten” at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany.
“Let’s be brave,” Milliken told members of GSP’s design team prior to the airport’s opening in 1962. “Let’s take the best airplane position at the terminal and make it a garden instead.”
But Milliken wasn’t just satisfied with a garden. He wanted the airport to be defined by attractive landscaping and art, because he thought passengers would enjoy it and that it would boost the airport’s image.
In 1967, the airport’s executive director, Dick Graham, was hosting a group of leaders from Knoxville, Tenn.
When one of the group asked how the airlines allowed the garden to be part of the airport, Graham’s response was straightforward.
“It’s easy,” he said. “You just get a chairman and a commission like mine who says that’s where it’s going to be.”
Sprucing Up the ‘Front Porch’
Throughout its history, GSP officials have remained committed to incorporating landscaping and art to enhance the airport’s physical space.
The goal has always been to make air travel more enjoyable for the airport’s fliers, which are comprised of about 60 percent business travelers and 40 percent leisure.
On May 23, the airport capped off its five-year $125 million terminal renovation, nicknamed Project WINGSPAN.
The final project features a range of new artwork to complement the aesthetic and functional enhancements of the building, and to reflect the region’s history, diversity, landscape, economic prosperity, and vision for the future.
“We are a business airport,” said airport spokeswoman Rosylin Weston. “When businesses choose to relocate to a community, one of the things they look at is the presence of a strong airport. Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Allen Smith said GSP is ‘the community’s front porch.’ We all want the front porch to look good.”
Weston said the airport’s art and landscaping has always been a hit with customers. It’s a branding concept that other airports have embraced, including GSP’s closest competitor, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, which has been known since 1997 for the white wooden rocking chairs in its terminal.
With Project WINGSPAN, a team comprised of GSP commissioners, airport staff, and community stakeholders decided to launch a new initiative in partnership with the consulting firm Stantec.
Their mission was to develop a sophisticated art program for GSP.
“You don’t have to fly out of the airport to benefit from it,” Weston said. “New business and industry brings jobs. … We looked at this as an opportunity to set the bar for what visitors will see across the community. Our arts program is part of our desire to create a good first impression.”
Weston said the new terminal was designed to accommodate art that would attract attention without impeding the flow of airport traffic.
The next challenge was to commission pieces for the spaces that would give passengers some sense of the community’s identity.
“One of the things we wanted was, whether it’s CEOs, business travelers, or visitors, if they engage with art along the way, they would have a sense of who we are,” Weston said.
Where We Come From, Where We Live, Where We’re Going
The art program’s committee developed three themes: “Where We’ve Come From,” “Where We Live,” and “Where We’re Going.”
“Where We Come From” focuses on the region’s rise to global prominence as a hub of textile manufacturing. The goal of the theme was to “encourage innovative concepts that meld textiles and art” and “bring vibrant colors into the terminal.”
“Where We Live” centers on integrating the region’s natural beauty — rivers, vegetation, and mountains.
“Where We’re Going” emphasizes technology and mobility. It celebrates the Upstate’s reputation for driving innovation, particularly in the automotive sector, as well as its concentration of corporate headquarters and colleges.
The program resulted in the selection of eight artists and the commission of several pieces that are now on display throughout the terminal.
Constantly in Motion
Dimitar Lukanov, sculptor of “Waterfall of Light,” who studied in Paris and earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University, said he was inspired by GSP’s fountain in front of the terminal. Inside the terminal, the sculpture triples at night as it is reflected in the opposing vertical panes of glass that make up the curtain wall.
“It’s a multidirectional sculpture,” said Lukanov, who is now an American citizen and works out of a studio in Upstate New York. “It has no borders, no edges, no endings. It’s created in such a way that it’s dispersed into the air. It’s continuous. It flows. … Very much like an airport. People are constantly in motion. They meet at certain points — be it at a gate, or check in — and then they disperse. That’s exactly what the sculpture in a way tries to symbolize.”
Some of GSP’s older artwork has been redeployed.
The airport’s murals that were placed before and after the terminal’s last renovation in 1989 have been removed.
However, several sculptures of children at play that were ordered by GSP’s long-serving commission chairman, co-founder, and late Spartanburg textile magnate Roger Milliken are still on display in the airport’s new airside garden. Weston said it is the first airside garden sanctioned by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The statue of a young boy fascinated with the progress of flight that was commissioned in 2004 is located in the fountain in the curtain wall at the south end of the terminal near baggage claim.
Weston said the renovated terminal also has space for rotating galleries that will feature the works of local artists.
New art pieces at GSP Airport include:
“Upcountry Vistas,” a collection of oil paintings by Greenville artist Melissa Anderson located in the airport’s B Concourse. The paintings feature a peach orchard, the Liberty Bridge in downtown Greenville, and a textile mill’s water tower.
“Ode to the Great Carolina Wren” and “Exotic Birds” by Arthur Stern of Benicia, Calif. Stern’s pieces each include 10 panels of stained glass that are backlit by LED lights. “Ode to the Great Carolina Wren” is on display above the two elevators at the terminal’s north end. “Exotic Birds” is above the two elevators on the terminal’s south end near baggage claim.
“South Carolina Quilt” by Evelyn Rosenberg of Albuquerque, N.M., is a metal quilt with three panels that feature 24 patches containing images of South Carolina symbols. Rosenberg created the patches via a process she calls “detonography,” a sculptural technique that employs the use of explosives. The quilt is on display in the airport’s A Concourse.
“Souvenir of a Mountain Garden” by Michael Krondl of New York. Krondl’s piece is made up of six panels of glass that depict photographs of rhododendrons in full bloom. The work is on display near the airport’s new centralized TSA screening checkpoint.
“River Bank” and “Autumn at Table Rock” by Joan Weissman, who is also of Albuquerque. Weissman created two large terrazzo tile pieces using chips of marble, granite, glass, shell, and quartz. “River Bank” is located on the second floor near the escalator leading to GSP’s A Concourse. “Autumn at Table Rock” is on the second near the escalator leading to B Concourse.
“Thread” by Amy Baur and Brian Boldon of Minneapolis. The 240-square-foot piece is displayed on the wall near the TSA checkpoint. It features a colorful montage of past and present images of the Upstate.
“Waterfall of Light” by Dimitar Lukanov. The piece is an 800-pound metal sculpture that stands 19 feet tall and features 250 filigree steel “elements” resembling straightened boomerangs welded to 300 feet of bent steel tubing. Not including its large base, the sculpture is painted an eye-catching yellow. It is displayed in a fountain within one of two glass curtain walls topped with pyramidal roofs that protrudes from the façade of GSP’s main terminal.