Saturday, October 18, 2003

To artists, bridge just far enough



By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Passengers on the top decks of the 17 riverboats in Friday's Parade of Tall Stacks could look up at the top of the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge's south tower and see a phalanx of camera lenses pointed in their direction.

Those lenses belonged to some local photographers who may well have had the best view of the riverboat parade as it passed by.

If it wasn't one of the best, it was certainly one of the highest - about 230 feet above the Ohio River.

The Covington-Cincinnati Suspension Bridge Committee, an organization that helps maintain the bridge that has linked the Ohio and Kentucky shores since its opening on New Year's Day 1867, invited a half-dozen local photographers and artists to climb the winding staircase on the outside of the tower to shoot and sketch from the windy and all-encompassing vantage point.

"We only ask one thing," said Gerard Roberto, the past president of the non-profit committee, as the photographers started the long climb to the top. "All we ask is that they donate a print to the organization that we can use for fund-raising. That's a fair price to pay, isn't it, for a view like this?"

Each year, the committee spends about $20,000 to maintain the flags that fly atop the towers and the lights that create the necklace effect along the bridge's cables.

The lights, Roberto said, have to be replaced four or five times a year.

In addition to the maintenance work on the lights and flags, members of the committee travel to local schools and give presentations on the historic structure, which was built between 1856 and 1866 by John A. Roebling, the engineer who later achieved his greatest fame with a similar but larger-scale project, the Brooklyn Bridge.

Maintenance of the bridge is the responsibility of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, but the association is there to help, Roberto said, "because this is a beautiful gem for both sides of the river. Look at the part it plays in Tall Stacks; there is hardly a picture taken of the riverboats that does not have the bridge in the background."

Friday afternoon, Roberto gathered the photographers and artists to make the trek of 131 open-air steps to the top, while a small group of Tall Stacks festival-goers stood on the bridge's deck to watch the boats go by.

Bruce Neville, an artist from Pleasant Ridge, has made the trip to the top many times.

He is a watercolor artist who has done three works featuring the bridge.

One of them hangs in a Covington condominium just next door to the bridge's south tower.

"This bridge is a treasure. I have loved it for years and years," said Neville, looking out across the river to the riverboats slowly pulling away from the Public Landing.

"I never grow tired of painting it,'' Neville said. "And I never grow tired of looking at it. I can't imagine the river without it."

E-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com




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