This may come as disappointing news to those traveling along Bowie Mill Road in Olney, but Pepco will soon remove the “utility pole art gallery.”
Earlier this summer, paintings mysteriously started appearing on wooden boards attached to the base of utility poles in the 18400 block of Bowie Mill Road, between Thornhurst Road and Gelding Lane.
There are about eight boards, with paintings on five of them. The paintings are all different, ranging from Andy Warhol-like Campbell’s soup cans to colorful squares in the style of Piet Mondrian.
No one seems to know who is behind the boards or the artwork, although many seem to enjoy it. Recent comments on the Olney-Brookeville Exchange Yahoo Group included, “Thank you to whoever is behind the artwork on Bowie Mill Road,” “Does anyone know the story behind this innovate display of those masterpieces?” “I noticed them the other day and really enjoy the artwork. Whoever is painting them, kudos!” and “Highly anticipating the next set of masterpieces to be displayed! Who is behind this?”
Greater Olney Civic Association president Barbara Falcigno said the arrival of the plain boards seemed to coincide with the start of construction on the nearby Olney Springs development last summer. She wondered what the boards were for, having never seen them before. Then this summer, the paintings began to appear, about every 10-14 days.
“They do appear to be painted over a single night because all of a sudden it is there, complete in the morning,” Falcigno said. “Nobody sees anyone actively painting.”
But, according to Pepco spokesman Marcus Beal, Pepco did not install the boards.
“They are not a part of our infrastructure,” he said. “Someone put them there, and it is actually a violation of county laws.”
Unfortunately, Beal said that because of safety reasons, Pepco would be removing the paintings, probably later this week.
“Our linemen need unimpeded access to the poles, and there can’t be any obstructions that could cause delays,” he said. “During a storm, restoration work is a priority, and we need the work to go as quickly and as safely as possible.”
He said it could also cause safety concerns if a lineman’s protective equipment were to become snagged on something.
Beal said Pepco would take care to preserve the paintings, and if the artist would like to retrieve them, he or she can contact Pepco’s customer service department.
“We are not looking to press charges or anything, and we will ask the folks to be as careful as possible when taking them down out of respect for the artist,” he said.
Beal said that Pepco supports a number of organizations and programs in the communities they serve, many related to the arts. Their D.C. office features a gallery that works with nonprofit groups, and will host an exhibit in conjunction with Montgomery College this fall.
“We don’t want it to seem like we are stifling creativity, but the key for us is the safety of our lineman and the restoration of power as quickly as possible for our customers. We can’t have anything attached to the poles that could hinder those efforts.”