The Oarsman was David Phelps’ first commission. Phelps received his MFA from the University of Oklahoma in 1984, won a regional NEA Fellowship in Sculpture in 1985, and was awarded a six month residency at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center Arts in Industry program in 1987. The Kohler program was a great experience for Phelps and gave him the opportunity to add sculptures created in vitreous china and cast iron to his portfolio.
Late in 1987 Triad Development Co. of Knoxville, Tennessee sent out a call for qualifications for a sculpture project. Phelps (along with 300+ other artists) applied for the project and made the short list. Triad vice president Dan Culp championed Phelps’ work and he won the commission.
The Oarsman is installed in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee in an open plaza on the corner of Church & Gay Street. It has become a favorite landmark for the community.