News Flash


Posted on: August 18, 2023

PRESS RELEASE (8-18-23): Benson Gets a Big Hand!



The Town of Benson and the Benson Art Advisory Board are proud to announce the installation of the second sculpture in the annual rotating art display on Main Street. 

This morning, Durham-based artist Joe Coates, along with some help from the Benson Electric Department’s boom truck, installed a sculpture entitled “Open Hand” at the Mary Duncan Public Library (100 W. Main Street). 

The metal sculpture, which stands over 11-feet tall, is exactly what the title suggests — a large open hand. Looking closer reveals several details including lines on the palm, clever welding seams that look like joints, indentions suggesting fingernails, and knuckles on the back of the hand. 

It’s a striking piece of art, but also a great example of metalwork — a trade Joe is very familiar with. 

“It actually started when my Dad was a pilot at the local airport. I was always helping him and the mechanics there taught me how to weld,” he explained. “I started fixing up cars and that’s how I was able to save a little bit of money welding. Then, I realized, hey — welding is kind of pretty in its own way too.” 

After graduating from Duke Engineering School in 1972 and working as an engineer and eventually a business owner for several years, he now makes art full-time. A recent piece actually inspired the Open Hand that is now on display in Benson. 

“I did a big Lady Justice about 16-feet tall for a lawyer’s office in Durham. When I was doing that, the hardest part was making the hands — it was double human size. Everyone knows what a hand looks like so it was a real challenge to get them right, but it was actually the part that I enjoyed the most,” he said. 

“When I got done with that, I thought, ‘you know what I’ll just do a big hand,’ and this one has seemed to really strike a chord with people… I chose this material — COR-TEN steel — instead of stainless so it would have more of a human characteristic,” he added. 

So, what does it mean?

“It’s kind of, you know, the open hand with all of the stuff that could be going on — hi, bye, welcome — it’s kind of all that. An open hand is kind of the universal statement of welcome,” explained Joe. 

And that’s exactly what the sculpture will be doing in downtown Benson – welcoming folks. 

Joe’s work is leased and will be on display for one year in Benson, then it will be removed (destined for another town or event) and another artist’s work will be installed. Right now, the Library is the only spot selected for these “rotating” art pieces, but the Art Board hopes to add more locations around town in the future. 

This opportunity was made possible by the Johnston County Visitors Bureau through occupancy taxes collected from Benson hotels. These funds are designated for marketing and the beautification of downtown Benson. Benson Art Advisory Board projects are funded by these collections and no resident tax dollars contributed to the project.

To see more work from Joe Coates, check out his website

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