A new bench memorializing late Chapel Hill resident and activist Eva Metzger will be installed on the Tanyard Branch Trail on Sept. 21.
The bench, designed by local husband-wife artist duo Michael Waller and Leah Foushee Waller, depicts a cherry blossom branch made of bronze, concrete and steel and references Metzger’s work for the Chapel Hill community.
Metzger’s family and friends made the donations for the bench after her death in 2021, nearly one and a half years ago.
Metzger's daughter, Meg Millard, came up with the idea for the bench. She said her mother planted cherry trees along Willow Drive in Chapel Hill, which inspired the design.
To construct the bench, Waller Foushee said she and her husband spent time researching and learning about Metzger's life to help in their artistic process.
“This is the first public art piece that we've ever made specifically for a woman," Waller Foushee said. "Not a family, not a man, not a city."
She said she is fascinated by learning about people like Metzger and the challenges they had to overcome throughout their lives.
According to Metzgar's obituary, she co-founded the Women's Book Exchange, which included a collection of feminist writings. The store was shut down by its landlord, but most of the collection was bought by Duke University.
She also co-founded The People's Channel, which aims to advance democratic ideals and allows community members to broadcast self-made productions with provided equipment.
Millard and the two artists worked with Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation and Community Arts & Culture on bench placement and landscaping the trail area for installation.
“Artistic infrastructure is interesting because, on one hand, it's a piece of art, right?" Steve Wright, the public art coordinator for Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture, said. "But on the other hand, it needs to function and meet various ADA requirements, safety requirements.”
Kevin Robinson, the senior park planning and operations manager of Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation, said the spot where the bench will be placed was chosen carefully.
“A memorial bench is something that we really want to be thoughtful about where it's placed so that it can add to our facility, because there's other spots that are just a little more functional to sit down and rest at,” he said.
The spot chosen also is related to Metzger’s work in advocating for the creation of official trails. Millard said that Tanyard Branch Trail, which originally ended where the bench will now stand, was completed under a committee that she was a part of.
Millard said Metzger also helped pass a measure that required more sidewalks to be built in Chapel Hill to improve walking safety.
“She spent almost 50 years working on this, trying to get sidewalks and greenways,” Millard said. “She was working on making outdoor spots for people all the way until her death.”
She was also a member of the Greenways Commission, which planned Chapel Hill’s greenway system and constructed its first greenway paths.
“It seemed like it was more worthwhile to honor her by letting her be outside,” Millard said. “I mean, she's not going to be there but the thought of being able to sit by the creek and enjoy it.”
By proposing this bench, Millard hoped to both commemorate her mother’s work while also persuading people to be active in their community to improve it.
“It's just recognition of the importance of volunteerism in the community and that it's good to recognize the volunteers and all they contribute to a community and how much change can happen when people recognize the need and say 'We need to do something about this,'” Millard said.
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