September 24, 2016

Capturing the Shields of Cities

Few people choose to look down for inspiration. But one Salt Lake City artist has found beauty in the ‘man hole covers’ around the world.

by Anand Rao

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

Vacationing in Scotland, in 1999, Louise Levergneux 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.

Photographer, LOuise Levergneux

“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 manhole covers. Beginning that instant, Louise started observing manhole covers everywhere and taking photos of them.

The castles and ruins of Scotland were no longer subjects of interest for her. “I am sure many 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 covers.Since then, she has walked over thousands of them in over 100 different cities photographing, documenting and producing an artists’ book project encompassing manhole cover designs. Her collection titled “City Shields,” which is growing every day has been exhibited and presented in galleries and shows in Canada, the USA and in the United Kingdom

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 Westminster College in Salt Lake City. Her first exposure to art was in grade school, when her art teacher selected a few gifted children for a special Friday class.

Though Louise was exposed to colored pencils, oils and drawing from the start, she experimented and developed in other media. “Painting and installations frustrated me,” she says. “After some experimentation with different art forms, I found that artists’ books were more suited to express my ideas,” she adds.

For the last decade and a half, she has been producing work that incorporates digital photography with themes she describes as “autobiographical.”

“My work is all about my personal experiences and my travels,” she says. “City Shields” for instance is a collection of manhole covers that Louise has walked upon. “City Shields” is now a series with 46 volumes, which includes over 1,100 photos of different manhole covers.

Of all the manhole covers, she rates the ones in Ohio as most interesting. “Every county in Ohio has one special design” she says. “Some of them are very unique depicting historical aspects of the region,” she adds. 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 the most interesting designs,” she says pointing to a photo of a manhole cover from St. George with an etching of mountains and sunrise.

Louise says that capturing photos for “City Shields” 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 to verify if it would fit the collection. “It’s easier if the manhole covers 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 to stop traffic while I take a photo of a manhole cover.”

Since creating 7 volumes of Utah and 8 volumes of the Southwestern states, Louise’s goal is to continue looking in.