Inside D.C. entertainment

Bethesda Safeway's fine art debut goes unnoticed by shoppers

October 13, 2011 - 10:25 AM
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Guests at Wednesday’s “Celebrating the Art of Safeway” soiree in Bethesda seemed to miss the memo about the “art” part of the evening.

The fine work of Washington Glass School artists Erwin Timmers, Michael Janis, Robert Kincheloe, and Tim Tate, which lines the new store’s exterior along Bradley Boulevard, generally went unremarked upon by the well-heeled crowd.

“I didn’t even pay attention,” says Tommy Hemphill, who, like several other guests, didn’t realize that the wall of cast-glass panels he’d walked by on his way in was art. “But I will,” he promises.

Companion Quianne Parrin also failed to notice the art, even though she had heard it would be displayed tonight. “I was aware of it, but I forgot about it,” she admits. Parrin says the fresh fruit bruschetta being served in the store is delicious though.

Several party-goers did express appreciation for the glasswork. Bethesda resident Carol Ramirez says she has driven her teenaged son and his carpool friends past the store numerous times during its construction. “They thought it looked really nice,” Ramirez says, though, “the 13-year-old boys were a little worried that someone would drive their car into the glass.”

Adds Amy Thomas, “We’ve had some salons driven into by older people.”

Accidents aren’t the only concern surrounding the installation—someone’s gotta clean that art. Lee Thompson and Ivan Khmaladze run the company that cleans most of the area’s Safeways. “It’s hard for a window guy to clean,” says Thompson. “Lot of handwork.” He doesn’t mind the challenge of cleaning the panels because they’re “awesome looking,” but “I wish I knew more of the story behind them.”

The artists don’t seem to mind if the cocktail crowd is more focused on snacking than discussing their work, which they call a piece of public art.

“We couldn’t be more pleased,” says Tate, adding that the piece has generated numerous phone calls from collectors and even the Renwick Museum’s board. “We’re going to hear about this project for years. Most art collectors are in Bethesda.”

Timmers speaks to the challenges of working with the glass, which was salvaged from freezer doors and dividers from the old Safeway that this store replaced. “We had to strip off the stickers that said ‘broccoli,’” he says. The different codings, chemicals, and wiring in the freezer doors provided interesting color variation in the glass.

In addition to achieving artistic success, the men feel they satisfied their client. “I’m sure Safeway now feels a sense of elevation,” says Janis.

Indeed, Safeway spokesperson Craig Muckle calls the art “great.”

“I think it’s a very nice amenity,” he says, and appropriate for the artistically minded Bethesda shoppers, even if they failed to notice that it was art.

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