In 1993 the Carroll Creek Bridge in Frederick, Maryland was an ugly plain concrete structure. More than an eyesore, it formed a visible dividing line between racial groups and economic classes in Frederick. Local media called the bridge a “monstrosity.”
Five years later, the monstrosity had become a beautiful old stone bridge decorated with intricate designs, hidden secrets and mysterious carvings. There’s just one catch: it’s still the same bridge. The stonework, carved art and scrolled metalwork are all an incredible illusion painted onto the concrete structure in a jaw-dropping example of the technique called “trompe l’oeil,” French for “fool the eye.” This incredible transformation was the brainchild of mural artist William Cochran, and it turned an ugly symbol of division into a project that united the community of Frederick.
The birth of the Community Bridge
When William Cochran first made his proposal — to paint a new bridge on top of the old one — the idea seemed far-fetched. But Cochran had already become known for his landmark murals in Frederick, and the project began despite public controversy.
With the help of a local group called Shared Vision, Cochran invited the 175,000 residents of Frederick to contribute ideas for the bridge’s decorations — and thousands of them came pouring in. These ideas became the focus of the project, and work began.
The artist’s vision
From the inception of the Community Bridge project, Cochran saw it as a way to build connections within the town of Frederick, and to symbolize the greater connections between people on the larger scale. The images and symbols he and his team incorporated into this amazing mural all represent various concepts of connectedness, from a hidden door to an angel peeking out from a circular stone window.
The features included in the bridge appear so real they defy the senses. Visitors are tempted to reach out and touch these two-dimensional images — and birds often try to land on the painted-on fountain, already enjoyed by painted birds.
The bridge today
The attention the Community Bridge project received resulted in suggestions from people all over the world. Today the bridge features ideas from far-flung places like Indonesia, South Africa and Argentina. The area surrounding the bridge has been transformed into a lovely public park, with walkways along the creek and cafes at the water’s edge. And a dramatic anamorphic projection called the “archAngel” now watches over the bridge and its visitors.
This humble bridge, once a barrier between neighborhoods, has become a symbolic and a genuine point of connection for the town of Frederick. It’s a monument to the practicality and feasibility of truly public art. And it’s an inspiring example of how art can establish common ground among people.