In Deep Ellum, Meet The Traveling Man

Almost a year ago to the day we received word that Brad Oldham and Reel FX's Brandon Oldenburg were collaborating on "a sculpture series at multiple sites surrounding DART's new Deep Ellum Rail Station," which is part of the Green Line and scheduled to open come fall. Today, we find out what they've got in mind, as Reel FX directs our attention to this Web site showcasing renderings of the three "Traveling Man" sculptures -- ranging from eight to 38 feet in height -- due to make their bow in coming weeks along Good-Latimer Expressway.

After the jump, the story of The Traveling Man, to which my late grandfather Harry could relate: From 1932 till 1955, he sold auto parts just one block from one of the spots (Elm Street and Good-Latimer) where Oldham and Oldenburg will build their metal man to honor " Deep Ellum's heritage," as Oldenburg says.

The Story

Since 1884, when the first industrial business opened in Deep Ellum, the land has absorbed an overrun of business, great entrepreneurial ambitions and industrial parts, along with the next-to-arrive restaurants, art galleries, retailers, bars and visitors. Many feet, tires and tracks have packed the earth of Deep Ellum. It is the culmination of all these elements in this entertainment-district that was borne from an industrial heritage that provided the materials for creation of The Traveling Man.

The story goes that some time before 1900, an old steam train was buried near the intersection of what today is Main Street and Good Latimer. A majestic elm tree grew nearby in a grassy area, providing a shady spot for visitors to gather and shelter for many song birds. As the roots of the elm tree grew closer to the buried train, magic started to happen. The surrounding dirt, fertilized with all that is Deep Ellum, created a womb. The Traveling Man was conceived late one night when a splash of gin spilled onto the dirt reached the tip of the elm tree root that rested on the train - and his gestation is nearly complete. This incredible man will be born in the summer of 2009.

In 2007, The Traveling Man reached out to Brandon Oldenburg and a team of artists in Deep Ellum at Reel FX Creative Studios. As The Traveling Man's image and personality began to reveal himself, the folks at Reel FX knew something special was about to happen. But they needed a little help from Dallas sculptor Brad Oldham to complete his image. As The Traveling Man has done for years, he has facilitated yet another creative collaboration -- this one between Reel FX and Brad Oldham -- to bring him alive above ground.

It's important to note that he is not a representation of a single element of Deep Ellum; rather, he uniquely encompasses many aspects of the community in a timeless manner. The guitar-shaped head is a nod to the musical history. The robotic shape demonstrates the playful and engaging nature of Deep Ellum. The height, lengthy spiral legs and outstretched arms represent the high aspirations of the Deep Ellum community and its future growth. The Traveling Man's position in motion shows this is a part of town "on the move." The open heart symbolizes the acceptance of Deep Ellum. The materials used in The Traveling Man are metals that would be commonly used in the industries that first established this neighborhood. And, finally, his sense of humor and whimsy are derived from the many creative people who live, work and visit Deep Ellum.

The Traveling Man has subconsciously inspired artists for years. There's a certain allure to Deep Ellum that has gone unidentified for more than a hundred years, but can now be traced back to The Traveling Man. His thoughts come up through the elm tree roots and are carried by the song birds throughout the neighborhood. Birds are his best friends; they dance in the sky and sing beautifully to communicate his inspiration, as The Traveling Man never speaks. His wisdom comes from years of listening to all that happens at street level.

Hints of The Traveling Man's influence can still be found in the subject matter of restless artists, in the manifestation of visitors to Deep Ellum for business owners, and even in the designation of a new DART rail station for the community. Whether it's the classic artist or the artful businessman, travel is an essential component of success - and travel is the common thread that ties Deep Ellum's history to its future. Soon this gentle, wise man will stand tall, raising with him the dreams and aspirations of those who believe in him.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky