Tex McIver has become a symbol. What kind of symbol says more about who we are than who he is. To those close to him, convinced that he loved his wife Diane without question and could no more shoot her intentionally than sprout wings and fly out of his jail cell, Tex is a victim of reverse prejudice, a convenient scapegoat for a society riven by class and racial resentments. Or is he, surrounded by his half-dozen defense attorneys, nothing more than a rich white man who believes the rules do not apply to him, who has spent decades with his thumb on the scales of power, who’s cynically exploiting race-based fears to cover up the opportunistic murder of his wife?
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Playscapes’s first restoration was in 1996, in preparation for the Summer Olympics, when it was repainted but not conserved. “What we found was, by 2005, there were structural issues with the slide components which had a lot of rust and corrosion, there was graffiti, and there were a lot of problems with social behavior around the site,” says Robert Witherspoon, project supervisor (collections management) for the City of Atlanta Public Art Program, Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. “One of the slides was closed down and had a hideous chain link fence around it because of drug activity that was happening in the concealed space of the tower. In 2008-2009, the city spent $350,000 restoring the playground to conservation standards: putting the equipment back into Noguchi’s layout, stripping the paint, patching and repairing corroded metal, repainting the original colors. In a few places, they altered the original design to improve safety in fall zones, in the spacing between bars, and to add curved, lockable doors to the top and bottom of the tower. “We grandfathered the rest of the design elements so that we didn’t have to radically change or mess with the integrity of the design,” says Witherspoon.
Earlier this year, with a $21,000 grant from Herman Miller Cares, the entire playground was repainted again and one wall in the pavilion fixed. “The effect is, it looks pretty much brand new,” Witherspoon says. In addition, the parks department brought in three semi-trucks of mulch, creating a softer surface underneath the Noguchi equipment. Going forward, multiple city agencies have vowed to keep up with maintenance. Ideally, says Witherspoon, Playscapes would have its own endowment to keep it looking new. The latest restoration, he says, “is a game-changer. Noguchi wanted to create a site that brought high art to everyone. That was something innovative when the park was designed in the 1930s, but even when it was installed in 1976.”
In fact, it’s still innovative. Interest in the design, safety, and efficacy of parks and playgrounds are on the upswing, as they were in the decades in which Noguchi was perfecting his approach to play. “He had a really good concept that playgrounds should not be designed like military exercise equipment for a cheaply executed boot camp,” says Hart of the Noguchi Museum. “He thought kids should experience the environment the way man first experienced the earth, as a spectacular and complex place.” Even if we can only experience the full complexity of the Noguchi play experience in Japan, the restored Atlanta Playscapes are a start—and should start a larger discussion about landscapes of play for the future.