15 Mar Small-town sculptures
“Stalking Cheetah” by Wendy Klemperer
When people think of public art in small towns, they may conjure up images of statuesque bronzes to martyred saints such as the beautiful 1896 bronze of Saint Winifred by George E, Bissel, looking at the moment rather lonely (if not downright mopey) on a barren esplanade in Hudson. (Granted, she did have a tough life.) Or, more currently, much the same way as a mayor of a nearby hamlet, whose recent plan to erect a larger- than- life size monument to Oliver North was, pardon the pun, shot down by the community in due haste.
“Right Angles” by Gunnar Theel
The SculptureNow exhibition in Lenox, Massachusetts, however, takes a very different approach: 21 often playful pieces of contemporary and mostly abstract works installed annually (though temporarily) throughout Main Street and its environs. It’s a great example of how to do it the right way these days—even though they are all coming down October 31, due to the imminent “wear and tear of winter, and all of the snow plowing that would otherwise have to be involved,” says Ann Jon, the executive director of the particularly civic-minded arts group.
Not to worry—the sculptures will return next year, as they have for fifteen years now, thanks to Jon’s efforts and financial help from theMassachusetts Cultural Council in Boston and the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, which collects grants and private donations for the organization. Armed with funds from these groups, the Danish-born Jon works every year with eagerly cooperative governments and local institutions in towns such as Stockbridge, Great Barrington, Lee, Becket, Hinsdale (and, of course, Lenox) to arrange for summerlong installations in their town own centers. In the process, she has presented works by artists with established reputations –George Rickey, Nancy Graves and, this year, Jonathan Prince – as well as provided opportunities for emerging sculptors, particularly those based in the region. After a careful vetting process, Jon and her advisory board choose some 20 sculptures and personally site each piece, integrating them, to their best advantage, into the town scene.
SculptureNow’s Ann Jon in her studio
“I think that, in the life of a community, you have to include art, and if you put it outside it won’t be confined to just a gallery, where kids especially will have a chance to see it. There’s an interactive aspect—some people love it and some people don’t but that’s a larger discussion that is in and of itself of great value,” says Jon.
This year’s Lenox show features work in a variety of materials: Steel, stainless steel, bronze, wood, granite, found materials, and epoxy, reflecting the full gamut of today’s sculptural expression, ranging from stylized realism to minimal abstraction. There are totems (“Totem I, II, II” by Colleen O’Donnell and “Totem II” by Jonathan Prince), a giant cedar shingle-covered chair (“Cedar Chair” by Leon Smith, left), sculpture derived from mathematical equations typed on a computer board (“Lollypop Tree” by Fielding Brown), and others that reflects a lifetime obsession with animals (“Predatory Cat” and “Stalking Cheetah” by Wendy Klemperer). Several are inspired by salvaged materials and another brings the language of temple architecture into the natural world of parks and gardens.(Murray Dewart’s two pieces: “Prairie Gate” and “Corragio.”) “We don’t really select sculptures for their style—we do it on the basis of quality and innovation and sometimes level of experimentation, aspects that a purely traditional style doesn’t often meet. There’s actually one figurative sculpture in the grouping, but they all need to be well made, installed easily but firmly, and safe for public interaction.”
Touring SculptureNow now exemplifies an ideal Berkshire experience, sited amongst Lenox’s handsome green spaces, public buildings and restored mansions, particular during autumn, perhaps the area’s most alluring season. As for the inevitable “What’s THAT, Harry?” reaction about particularly daring works, Jon says “There is always someone like ‘Harry.’ It gets interesting if ‘he’ calls me and I have a chance to talk to ‘him’ about the sculpture. Almost every time that happens the conversation ends with a positive understanding.” — Elizabeth Goldfarb Richardson