Capturing Shields of Cities

Enter the realm of manhole art


by Anand Rao

If taking the road less traveled excites you, this will blow your lids off–literally.

Inspired creativity have mysterious sources most of the times, but here’s a lady who draws inspiration from manhole covers. Yes, on those obscure round metal plates that you find on every street.

manhole artIn 1999, vacationing in Scotland, UK, Louise and her husband Michael Sutton, stopped over for a refill at a street side coffee shop in Glasgow. “Michael walked in to get some coffee while I waited outside,” says Louise. “As I sat outside on a bench looking around, I happened to look down and there it was,” she adds with obvious excitement sharing her story about how she first came across her fascination for manholes. Beginning that instant, Louise started observing manhole covers everywhere and clicking pictures of them.

The castles and ruins of Scotland were no longer subjects of interest for her. “I am sure many other tourists thought I was crazy, focusing my camera on the ground ignoring historic monuments right in front of me,” she laughs wondering how we could have ignored manhole covers for this long. That was the beginning of Louise’s ongoing art project on manhole lids. Since then, she has walked over several thousands of them in over 45 different cities photographing, documenting and producing art books on unique manhole cover designs. Her collection titled “City Shields,” which is growing every day has been exhibited and presented in several galleries and shows in Canada.

Born in Ottawa, Canada and raised in Hull, Quebec, Louise has recently moved to Utah to join her husband, who is a professor of management at the Westminster College in Salt Lake City. Her first exposure to art was in school, when her art teacher selected a few gifted children for a special Friday class. Though Louise was exposed to pencil, crayons and sketching from the start, she experimented and developed her own methods. “Portraits and installations frustrated me,” she says. “After some experimentation with various methods, I struck to art books,” she adds. For several years now, she has been working on producing artworks using a blend of digital photography and computer graphics on themes she describes “biographical.”

manhole art“I don’t accept pictures or images from others or pick up from other places. My work is all about my experiences and my travels,” she says. City Shields for instance is a collection of manholes only she has walked upon. “I should have clicked the picture and it will be the only kind in my collection,” adds Louise, who is very strict about not repeating a design. She has manhole cover prints from over 45 cities in Canada, US and Europe.

Of all the manholes, she rates the ones in Ohio as the best. “Every county in Ohio has its own special design of manhole covers,” she says. “Some of them are great works of art depicting historical aspects of the region,” she adds mentioning that many of them get replaced. In Utah, she likes the manhole covers in St. George and the ones on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. “The historic parts of towns always have interesting designs,” she says pointing to a print of a manhole cover from St. George with an etching of mountains and sunrise.

Louise says that capturing pictures of manhole covers is not as easy as it seems. Even when she’s driving or riding in a car, she has her eyes on the road looking for manhole covers. If she finds something interesting, she immediately pulls over to take a closer look and see if it would fit her collection. “It’s easier if the manholes are closer to the side walk but some of them are right in the middle of busy streets,” she says. “On several occasions, I have asked my husband or whoever is with me to stop traffic while I am taking a picture of a manhole cover.”

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