The amazing ‘Crystal City’ in downtown Dayton is a must-see

6:00 a.m. Friday, Sept. 15, 2017 What To Love

After more than 25 years, it is still hard for Robert Blackstone to explain the project he began on his grandma’s dining room table at age 20 or so. 

But there Crystal City is, in a space adjacent to The Collaboratory at 33 N Main St. in downtown Dayton. 

“You have to come see it,” Blackstone said. “There are not enough words.”

Passersby can see it through the window of the space long ago occupied by an Elder-Beerman department store just off Courthouse Square.

Like any other city, Blackstone’s Crystal City is a work in progress. 

“There is always construction,” he said.  

The street artist’s animated, mixed-media installation started off as a hobby. Packed with whimsical found objects, it combines a list of hobbies that include music, games, trains, race tracks and video games. 

Dayton artist Robert Blackstone has been working on Crystal City, his mixed-media project, for more than 26 years. The project, a work in progress, is currently assembled in an empty space next door to the The Collaboratory in downtown Dayton. Photo: Amelia Robinson

“When I first started having kids, I wanted to show them something beautiful,” the father of four said. “It started out on one table and now it is on two tables and the whole floor.” 

A painter, Blackstone credits his time at the Dayton Visual Arts Center with turning him into an artist. He found the arts organization by word of month. 

From a 1994 Dayton Daily News article on a street art exhibit Blackstone participated in: 

He had no portfolio, no slides, no resume. His formal education had ended after a year at Colonel White High School. He didn't know anything about traditional art making, but he felt compelled to create things.

Using discarded items he found on the street in his neighborhood or that he bought at nearby thrift stores, he re-formed used objects to reflect his vision of life around him. Sometimes the new pieces he created stood alone, sometimes they became part of elaborately structured miniature worlds.

DVAC not only accepted Blackstone in, but also encouraged his efforts.

Blackstone said DVAC Executive Director Eva Buttacavoli and Peter Benkendorf of The Dayton Collaboratory helped him find space for the latest version of Crystal City. 

Benkendorf said the details found in Crystal City are even more intriguing when Blackstone takes you on a tour of the piece.  

“You can spend an hour in there and come back the next day and see something completely different,” he said. 

Want to see it?

Those who want to see it in person can contact The Collaboratory at 937-476-1535 or collab@daytoncollaboratory.org to set up an appointment.

Dayton artist Robert Blackstone has been working on Crystal City, his mixed-media project, for more than 26 years. The project, a work in progress, is currently assembled in an empty space next door to the The Collaboratory in downtown Dayton. Photo: Amelia Robinson

The piece includes grafitti by artist Simeon Oyeyemi.

The Playground Theater Company donated the platforms that Blackstone has built Crystal City on for the past 18 months. 

Sometimes the artist worked such long hours that he only paused for naps in a cubby -- a move inspired by a story famed Dayton artist Bing Davis once told him about family members sleeping under a table due to cramped quarters.

Dayton artist Robert Blackstone has been working on Crystal City, his mixed-media project, for more than 26 years. The project, a work in progress, is currently assembled in an empty space next door to the The Collaboratory in downtown Dayton. Photo: Amelia Robinson

Crystal City is thunders, whirls and flashes. 

There are screens, a turntable, crabs, stuffed animals and bowling trophies that Blackstone transformed with paint and the heat of a welder’s torch. 

An earlier version of Crystal City was part of an exhibit at the University of Dayton in 1994, said Blackstone, who is an independent construction contractor.  

Crystal City is partly a reminder of war and a memorial to Blackstone’s late father, Robert Goodson, and grandmother, Aredia Goodson, as well as those who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Dayton artist Robert Blackstone has been working on Crystal City, his mixed-media project, for more than 26 years. The project, a work in progress, is currently assembled in an empty space next door to the The Collaboratory in downtown Dayton. Photo: Amelia Robinson

It includes monuments representing the Twin Towers, complete with a beacon inside of the Pentagon building.  

Blackstone says Crystal City is also about love. Images of love can be found throughout the project. 

He says he wants Crystal City’s vistors to use their imaginations, and called on the advice he gives to his youngest daughter. 

“Hold onto your imagination for as long as you can,” he said.

Dayton artist Robert Blackstone has been working on Crystal City, his mixed-media project, for more than 26 years. The project, a work in progress, is currently assembled in an empty space next door to the The Collaboratory in downtown Dayton. Photo: Amelia Robinson
Dayton artist Robert Blackstone has been working on Crystal City, his mixed-media project, for more than 26 years. The project, a work in progress, is currently assembled in an empty space next door to the The Collaboratory in downtown Dayton. Photo: Amelia Robinson
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