Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Showing the Love- Part II

In my last post, I wrote about how artists depicted love in their public pieces.
It's not always easy to translate emotions into solid, rooted, pieces of art, especially if they're large scale works.
It's often difficult to make people experience abstract concepts through concrete expressions.
So sculptors have famously toyed with materials, shapes, vignettes, and even text to get their point across- with varying degrees of success.
But there is a component to all public sculpture that really affects its chance of success.
It's called location. As in- location, location, location.
There are places where the viewer expects to be moved emotionally. They come to the works sympathetically. They are  more than ready to feel and understand the pieces they see before them.
The obvious site for statues depicting love and loss are, of course, cemeteries.
I've spent a lot of time hunting great memorial sculptures in cemeteries over the past few decades. I'm particularly fascinated with pieces from the 19th and early 20th centuries. They almost always hit the mark. Part of the power, of course, was the language of the time.
No one was afraid of overstating the emotions surrounding death. No one was concerned about going over the top, and so their statues, like their actors, were often melodramatic. And, as sophisticated as I like to think of myself, I've reacted predictably.
The pieces in cemeteries are personal- they are set on their plots by clients (normally) who are devoted to the dead. They aren't meant to sit in traffic circles or impersonal public spots where technique trumps connection or fame surpasses content. They draw you into the love stories that inspired them.
I spent most of the first day I ever spent in Paris in Montparnasse Cemetery- a lovely huge left bank graveyard with a pretty amazing array of statues. I found what is probably my all time favorite statue of grief and love there. It depicted a grieving man and his beloved, who is reaching out to be released from the heavy gravestone that crushes her.
The simple image of a dog stretched out on a grave or sitting alert at the foot of a marker always gets me (as in the pieces in Forest Hills cemetery in Boston) in the heart, as do those of children reaching out for the light.
There are more places to increase the effectiveness of emotional works (such as leafy bowers and hidden corners), but, for me, cemeteries are the best.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Show me the love

How do you express emotions in public sculpture?
How, in fact, do you express emotions in any form of art?
Writing poems and novels that show/express love is relatively straightforward (not easy- but straightforward).
But putting the emotion into a solid piece of art that is meant to stand wind and sun and passing traffic is a pretty tough proposition. The location can affect its interpretation.

The weather layers more meanings on to the piece. Think of stone lovers in the dirty grey snow of late winter, and then surrounded by mid-summer's greenery. Totally different experiences.
(Photo by Patti Cassidy)
I ran across the statue of these two lovers when I was in Manchester, VT. It was a irritatingly grey cold day and when I looked at the shot on my computer, I realized that they seemed melancholy. I expect if I ever got to see them in a flower garden in summer's ripeness, I'd really feel the love.
How do you show love in public sculpture?
One way is through recognizable action, like lovers kissing (think Brancusi's "The Kiss"), the embracing couple above, or the clasped hands of Gretna Green. 
Another is through abstract expressions of form. In the case of love, they're usually sinuous, sensual, smooth- all of the "s" words that lead up to a kiss. They seduce you to touch them, stroke them. They're usually small and intimate (which makes really good ones hard to find in public spots). They're not monumental. I'm still looking- though I have found many small indoor pieces that totally work for me. If anyone runs across an abstract outdoors- please let me know...

And then, of course, there are the gigantically obvious text pieces, beginning with Robert Indiana's "Love" statue that stands commandingly over the streets of cities from NYC to Indianapolis. Not much subtlety there. Not my fave type of sculpture.
There is a natural habitat for love sculptures that I've hunted on both sides of the Atlantic. They tear your heart to pieces, and make you yearn to hold your dearest pals.
Watch for my next post...



Sunday, February 10, 2013

Of Forests and scultpure

How do you interpret a forest?
There are a lot of places that fill their brochure holders with handouts for their visitors. They are filled with great info- how many trees there are and what types. The history of the forest. The plans for future growth. Warnings about bears and poison ivy. Thumbnail photos of unique plants and insects that you may see whilst trekking the trails. They more often than not end up on the forest floor or stuffed in a tree notch. After the first glande, hikers don't look at them.

Other forests pin maps under heavy gauge plastic with trails clearly marked in amongst the isothermic lines of the topograph in a trail head lean to. Flyers with warnings and announcements of the natural variety are pinned around it, urging would be hikers to spend time in the shelter, trying to memorize all the information, rather than absorbing it on their way.
The most engaging interpretation I’ve ever found in a forest, though, is the sculpture trail (natch) in the Forest of Dean on the English/Welsh Border. The trail is clearly marked by posts with bright blue notches and every mile or so there’s a discovery that brilliantly plunges you into the experience of the trail itself. Few words are needed, few wanted, but not only do you experience the sounds and sights of the forest, but you can be swept away by the sculptures for their own sake.

Take “Cathedral”, by Kevin Atheton. You’re walking among tall trees arched above you when suddenly, on a heavy rod between two trees, you come upon a hanging 10 ft x 15 ft stained glass window. It takes your breath away, not only because it’s gorgeous in itself, but because it transcends the forest itself and connects the deep stillness and breaking light with the inspriation of a cathedral, which seeks to do the same.
Or “Melissa’s Swing”, by Peter Appleton. It’s a simple child’s swing hanging from a canopy attached to a high branch. Long strips of metal are attached to the canopy, so that when someone swings, the soft musical sounds of the metal vibrate the air around it. You become tuned to the subtle sounds, and, by extension, you listen to the birdsong and breeze in the trees and even the sound of your feet cracking through the woods.

One of my favorite pieces is “Iron Road” by Keir Smith. Made from 20 railroad ties (or sleepers) laid at regular intervals, just as they would be on a working railroad, they are each carved with haunting images of both nature and industry. The Forest of Dean was once a source of raw materials for the industry that blackened England, and made its huge navy strong before the 20th century. These ties recall that as they formed an abandoned railway that carried the lumber to the waiting mills.
A giant acorn broken open, a massive chair overlooking the forest, and a hanging crown of fire all have their place and all are self explanatory, opening the hiker’s eyes and mind to the truth that is the Forest of Dean.

It’s a magic place and calls for more experiments of the same sort.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Of Cookie Monsters and Art

Theft has always been a risk for public art.
According to England’s Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, The rise of metal theft over the last few years, due to the increase in the cost for copper and other metals, has caused major concerns across all sectors of the arts, heritage and rail transport. The PMSA is a founder member of ARCH (Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage) and with others is developing new ideas to ensure the safety and protection of public art.
But, somehow, the recent pilfering of a sculpture in Hanover, Germany, doesn’t seem so serious.
On or around 1/3/ 2013, a 40 lb. gold-plated brass cookie was boosted from a 100 year old sign outside of the Bahlsen Company. It represented the flagship sweet, the Leibniz Kek, first baked in 1891, and named for the city’s famous mathematician. The cookie, noted for its 52 (no more, no fewer) “teeth” around the edge had been held on the sign by two male figures.
Then came the twist. Instead of disappearing into an international network of art collectors, the cookie became the center of a bizarre tale.
A few days after the heist, the newspaper received a ransom note in the form of a photo. It showed someone dressed as Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster holding a sign made of cut out letters. I have the cookie! And you want it,” the letter read, according to the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung) newspaper. It then demanded that Bahlsen “give all the children (at a local children’s hospital) milk chocolate cookies on one day in February — and not dark chocolate … and a golden cookie for the children in the cancer ward. … signed, Cookie Monster.”
            According to another report, the Cookie Monster also demanded that the company donate $1400 to a local animal shelter. Although the company said that it wouldn't give into blackmail, it did agreed to distribute 52,000 packets of the sweets if the original sculpture was returned. Some skeptics speculated that the whole thing was a publicity stunt, though the company roundly denied the accusation.
            The hunt began for the precious cookie, but without results. Then, on 2/5/2013, two incidents happened that brought the episode to a happy ending.
            First, a newspaper received another photo from the monster, showing him with the cookie half in his mouth. But this one was much more encouraging. Instead of demanding more ransom, it said, (referring to Werner Michael Bahlsen, the head of Bahlsen , "Because Werni loves the biscuit as much as I do and now always cries and misses the biscuit so badly, I'm giving it back to him!!!"
            Then, the cookie itself appeared hanging by red ribbons from the heraldic horse of Lower Saxony where the city is located. The horse it was found on stands (or, rather, rears) outside of Leipniz University in Hanover. It was rescued by two forensic scientists who were hoisted by crane to top of the horse.  The company will, no doubt, either keep the cookie under guard  from here on in, tr wire it so that no similar incidents happen in the future.

Monday, February 04, 2013

The Foot Soldiers in Kelly Ingram Park

 (Photo from http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3334/3232914387_46afe08a76_z.jpg  

Last week, Mayor William A. Bell of Birmingham, AL,  announced that, to honor the 50th anniversary of the horrific events of May, 1953, the city was opening a design contest to place a new sculpture in the Kelly Ingram Park in the center of the Civil Rights District.  The piece will honor the “foot soldiers” of the Civil Rights movement.
"The foot soldiers were students, laborers, housewives and others who filled in the battleground, namelessly, behind more celebrated leaders. They are there in the history books, waving pickets, ducking water hoses, but never with a page of their own, and that's the reason for this contest, to recognize these fearless individuals for their heroic efforts," he said
The four acre park was originally called West Park, then was renamed  in 1932 for a local firefighter who was the first USN sailor to die in WWI.
It is across the street from the 16th St. Baptist Church, which  was bombed in September of 1963. The racially-motivated attack killed four little girls.  Before that, it was a staging ground for civil rights demonstrations, directed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In May, 1963, children (some as young as 6 years old) were gathered in the park to begin a non-violent demonstrations. City police and fire fighters, ordered by Eugene “Bull” Connor, their Public Safety Commissioner,  showed up and started flailing away at them. They turned fire hoses on them at full pressure. They set police dogs on them, and whirled one young man into the dog's jaws. This was all caught on camera and flashed around the world. And the world was horrified.
By the end of the year, Federal troops were in Birmingham, and the next year, the Civil Rights Act was passed.
In 1992, the park was rededicated as "A Place of Revolution and Reconciliation". It became a center for gatherings to remember the movement and carry it forward ever since.
The first time I went into Kelly Ingram Park, I was unprepared for the visceral sculptures of James Drake there. Three pieces on the Freedom Trail engaged and enveloped me. It  made me feel a part of the terror that was that park, especially in May, 1963. Fifty years ago.
They're actually vignettes. Fire hoses on tripods on both sides of the trail, jail cell bars on one side and children trapped on the other, and the most horrifying of all- the police dogs. I strolled the winding path observing,  reflecting, and becoming increasingly engaged at the sights. And then- straight ahead, the path ran between two 8 foot high walls with oversized German Shepards snarling out of them. In order to continue, I had to walk between them for ten feet. It sent chills down my spine.
It's stayed with me ever since.
When the Mayor called for new designs, he also said that there will also be a monument to the little girls who died across the street.
Both monuments will be made of steel, both because Birmingham is known for its steel, and because it represents the steel that was in the hearts of the people who were involved.
The winners of the competitions will be announced in September, and the pieces will be dedicated a year later. 

Friday, February 01, 2013

Update on the Blue Mustang of DIA

The day after I posted the story of the blue Mustang at Denver's International Airport, a local news station called for opinions on whether the 32 ft. sculpture should be removed. It seems that the stallion is up for its 5 year public art review and the floor is open for comments.
See the story at
It's time for those in the know to weigh in at https://www.facebook.com/ilike9news (right column on the time line).
Some people have called for landscaping to soften El Mesteno's startling impact and one compassionate horse lover suggested surrounding it with a few mares.
Joanna Morsicato wrote, "It just needs company....where are the mares that go with this crazy horse? Needs a colorful set of companions....added one at a time over the next 5 years. LOL."

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Blue Mustang welcomes you to Denver

Any time an artist creates an image s/he takes the risk of having it symbolize something quite different than what he intended to the people who see it.
Perfectly innocuous figures, given the right setting, can draw out all sorts of interpretations that probably weren’t ever intended.
Take the Denver International Airport’s famous blue horse, for example.
The artist, Luis Jimenez, Jr., was known for brightly colored massive fiberglass figures with a southwest theme. His work often reflected the barrio art seen in murals of Texas and Arizona where he lived.
So when the Denver International Airport approached him to do a freestanding piece as their symbol, he used one of the most powerful images in his stable- that of a rearing mustang.
Now Denver International Airport  is one of those places that just begs to be surrounded by the theorists of conspiracies. According to legend, it replaced Stapleton International Airport that could handle more traffic that the new one. And the “facts” spiral out from there.
No one seems to know who paid for it.
The layout of the runways form a swastika.
Strange languages are etched into surfaces in the airport.
A capstone of the time capsule says that the airport was built by “The New World Airport Commission”, which never existed.
(See http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Denver_Airport_conspiracy_theory for more)
And, worst of all- the art work is weird.    
The art work in the place, including gargoyles propping their elbows on suitcases near the baggage claim area and masked war figures stabbing doves, gets downright nightmare-inspiring at times.
Enter Jimenez’s "The Mustang", or "El Mesteno".
It's a multi ton 32 foot tall bright blue stallion (airport manager Kim Day remarked, "there is no mistaking which sex this horse is"). Its piecing red LED eyes piece the night and fog demonically.
It's such a frightening piece that it seems to have earned its nicknames- "Blucifer" and "DIAblo".
Best of all- it's got a back story. It murdered its creator.
Luis Jimenez was working on the horse alone in New Mexico on 2/13/2006 when a piece he was hoisting broke loose and fell on him, slicing the artery in his leg, killing him quickly on the studio floor.
Not a pretty site.
Two years later to the day, the horse was once again hoisted (this time by a team of workers) to greet visitors to the airport and to Denver proper.
It's definitely been tagged a tough piece to like.
And,  in keeping with the DIA conspiracy reputation, there are all sorts of theories as to who the horse represents.
Is it the pale horse of the Apocalypse?
Is it a symbol of the Denver Broncos?
Is it a symbol of the Blue Star Kachina prophecy?
Is it a statue of the horses that the unknowing victims of the notorius government experiments at Montauk Point claim to have seen?
At its dedication, Denver's mayor said that it could be seen as an image that would "ward off evil spirits- a good thing to have at an airport". Maybe not the most fortuitous turns of phrase when trying to stamp out nasty rumors.
Rachel Hultin, a local real-estate broker at the time, was so irritated by the piece (though she since says she's been converted and even has a program to educate people about art) that she started a Facebook page after a few drinks with friends called, "Bye Bye Blue Mustang".
The most lasting legacy of this page were some of the horse haiku she called for on it.
Anxiously I fly
apocalyptic hell beast
fails to soothe my nerves.    

Big blue horse beckons
Fiery, red eyes glowering
Good bye one horse town

Evil monster guarding a wicked airport, or wild west symbol shining with power?
You decide.

Monday, January 28, 2013


Photo from http://tahniaroberts.blogspot.com/2012/03/phuket-kamalas-tsunami-memorial.html
How do you remember a tsunami?
Do you memorialize the victims?
Do you commemorate the towering and enraged seas that obliterated everything before them?
Do you attempt to make the memorials that will last forever, knowing that in fact nothing survives nature's fury?
Do you put them at the site of the devastation- or somewhere safer, somewhere less soaked in tragic memories?   

The range of answers to these questions fascinate me.
The Indian Ocean tsunami claimed 283,000 lives in 2004. Unimaginable in scale, it touched people worldwide. Two years later, in 2006, the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture in Bangkok and the Phuket called artists worldwide to create a memorial for three locations, including Kamala, one of the hardest hit places in Thailand.

 Thai sculptor Udon Jinaksa work, Heart of the Universe got the nod as the centerpiece of Kamala's memorial. It’s 30 feet high. The woven wire creates a huge circular form like a mighty crashing wave, so recalls the power of the sea in recalling its victims.
Louise Bourgeois (who was 96 at the time) interpreted things quite differently.  Her Hold Me Close in Hat Nopparat National Park features three bronze hands raised out of waves, grasping for one another.  She meant for it to be placed among trees near a pond.
In 2010, though, it was deteriorating due to its proximity to the sea, and the Thai government  removed it for repairs. At that time, they tried to contact her about appearing in another event called "Imagining Peace", and learned that she had died. Thus, all of her work became much more valuable. They debated about returning it to its original spot since it might easily be stolen there. The people of the area insisted that it be returned to its original stance, though. They felt removing it, even temporarily, dishonored her and the victims it was meant to remember. Eventually, the government did return it, unrepaired, to its original home.
1.4 km (about a mile) off the coast of Phi Phi Island, another area that was hit so hard in 2004, stands the only underwater memorial to the 2004 tsunami. 60 feet under water, it can only be seen by divers, though its locations is marked by bright yellow bouys. It consists of 3 granite markers about 150cm high. There is a smaller marker dead center. They represent the elements of eath, wind and water- the elements of any tsunami.

Officials in Thailand, hope that the memorial will lure divers and snorkelers back to the Phi Phi Islands. "The three pyramids represent the three elements of earth, wind and water. Man must keep all three of these elements in natural balance; otherwise the forces of nature will restore the balance themselves. We hope the monument will serve as a reminder of the need to maintain ecological balance," a spokeswoman said.

High reliefs have their place in remembering the victims. Yunan Province in China hosts a bronze medallion with lvie faces on once side, and, on the obverse, the same faces, but obviously floating and dead. It's immensly moving piece from Laury Dizengremel.

Some monuments are ephemeral, but while they exist, they are powerful- maybe because they recognize nature’s power to reclaim them.
Help Me, Help Me  was one of them. It was a sand scultpure of an incredibly realistic hand clawing out of the waves with the words ”Help Me” written at the end of the finger tips. For those who came on this giant work, it was startling and movieng. Of course it was swept into the sea as were the victims it commemorated.

In Japan, the 2011 tsunami that wreaked such devastation had another type of emphemeral reminder. Ice scultpures, some of birds rising from the earth and another of figures in the mist, haunted those who saw them, remembering the tragic loss of life behind them.

Photo from
And then there are the most pwoerful monuments of all- the informal messages tacked by survivors to rmember their loved ones.

Tsunami sculptures can also do more than memorialize past events.
James Kelsey, a Washington State sculptor, was moved by the 2004 tsunami, but was inspired by the tsunami evacuations signs in the area to create his own version. His website says, ”My own mother now lives on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Every time I visit, I can't help but notice the warning signs every other block. The motion created in this piece is as if a wave crashing down upon the shore was frozen in time. I sometimes dread the raw power of our earth, but this piece isn't born of that fear, instead, it comes from the awe and wonder of the power in nature.”

Friday, January 25, 2013

Behold the Sleeping Mexican

           It’s the figure of a seated man in serape and huaraches, half hidden by an oversized sombrero, presumably sleeping. The iconic statue, (also known as Poncho) is found all over the world, but mostly in the southwest US, spurring both rage and affection among its viewers. 
        The now familiar image actually first appeared popularly in the early 1900's when Mexican President Porfirio Diaz privatized the land and forced hundreds of thousands of rural residents to migrate to cities and live in poverty.  After travelling all day and night, many of them dropped into the nearest spot to sleep.
          For a while the image was seen as an indictment of an oppressive regime. John Kenneth Turner wrote about the refugees in his book, Barbarous Mexico: An Indictment of a Cruel and Corrupt System in 1912.  In it, he captioned a photo of a Mexican sleeping against the wall as "A Study in Despair."
          After World War II, though, when the tourists came to town, it morphed. Trinket sellers made thousands of them as for vacation souvenirs. They were immensely popular as lawn ornaments, salt and pepper shakers, and other variations on the theme.
          In the 1960's, though, minorities began to find their voices, and “Poncho” joined the ranks of lawn jockeys and cigar store Indians as offensive stereotypes. In 1970, the Chicano magazine La Raza called it, "a lazy ne'er-do-well, a Stepin Fetchit with a Spanish accent."
         Originally, Taco Bell used the image as its symbol in 1962, but when Pepsico bought the chain in 1978, it switched the image to the current Mission Bell.

        Today, battles about the appropriate use of the image rage, though one researcher found that the degree of offense that a person takes is generally directly related to their social status.  In an interview with the Tucson Weekly, Professor Maribel Alvarez of the U of A in Tucson said that  highly educated, upper income Hispanics often rail against seeing the lawn ornaments, but working class folks in the barrio often see it as a symbol of home and safety.
         "They'd tell me, 'You see a stereotype in that? What sick mind would see that? How perverted is the gringo mind to think anything bad of it?'"

          In 2009, the ASU Future Arts Research Program raised hackles when it commissioned a piece called "Solo" to be placed on the Tohono O'odham reservation. The 12 foot high “Sleeping Mexican” statue was made of sand, dirt, water and straw and was mean to erode with time, which could, of course, symbolize the erosion of stereotypes. They then placed it in the desert in the middle of what turned out to be a well-known drug-smuggling corridor.
         But- alas- the gradual disintegration of the images was not to happen. The moment they popped it from the mold, it collapsed into a pile of mud.
         The piece raised the predictable rage, but, in the midst of the controversy a spokesman from the ASU Film and media studies dept. decided that "Solo" is "quite beautiful and poetic." In Mexico today, he wrote that "it might come to mean the solace of hard work in the sun - requiring rest and contemplation."
        In San Antonio last year, the city arts commission wanted to recreate a mural that had been on a 1947 drive-in. One of the images on the mural was that of the Sleeping Mexican. Activists were livid. It became a clear issue of historical artifact vs. modern sensibilities.
         Gabriel Velasquez, a former member of the city's arts advisory board pointed out that "Latinos are not asleep, we're on the march."  He was removed from the board shortly thereafter.
         But students in Pueblo High School in Tucson created a tee shirt with a fascinating change of view on the image. Poncho was printed twice on the shirt- first as the traditional head down sombrero covered sleeper, and then with his head raised and a book in his hands- indicating that he'd actually been reading, not sleeping.
         So today’s question is whether revisionist explanation for a work changes the work itself.          

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Yarn bombing!

Yarn bombing!
When you least expect it, public art near you could be yarn bombed. Be aware. Be alert.
The big bronze catamount at West Carolina University in Cullowee, NC. sported a fetching 5 foot long red sweater complete with battery powered electric lights for a week in December. Jessica Breen from the WNC Fiber Folk Arts group knitted it for the mascot in four days on a knitting machine.  She told the University News there, “The Catamount got all my holiday knitting.”
The Twin Cities Knitting community in Minneapolis created sets of hats, scarves, and sweaters for the statues of Minnesota Twins players Rod Carew, Kent Hrbek, and Tony Oliva. The well-dressed sports heroes got their duds just in time for the worst cold snap in years.
(Photo from http://alabamakatel.blogspot.com/2011/08/yarn-bombing-in-pittsburgh.html?showComment=1358871019337#c3153449308341025595)

In Pittsburgh, PA the iconic Mr. Rogers sits along the river welcoming more generations of children to the neighborhood. But it's chilly in the city, and one kind soul, Alicia Kachmer, who is known as a yarn artist, decided to do something about her hero. She knitted him (what else?) a bright red sweater. Complete with zipper. It makes him look like the avuncular TV guy we all once knew and loved. One visitor to the newly-clad statue said, "He looks a lot less creepy" with it on.
In Santa Rosa, CA, the Stone Grandfathers, two massive statues, gifts from Bukujeju, South Korea (the city's sister city) looked chilly this month. So Judy Kennedy grabbed her needles and 10 skeins of yard to make both of them hats with ear flaps big enough to cover their 18" long ears in two weeks. She said she was inspired by the yarn bomber in NYC, who covered Wall Street’s Charging Bull Statue in 2011.
In Philadelphia, the statue of Rocky with his raised arms on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum got a new addition in May, 2011. He sported a fetching pink sweater emblazoned with the words, "Go see the Art" on it.
Last August, the statue of Albert Einstein at the National Academy of Arts and Sciences ended up swathed in a multicolored full body outfit of yarn art.
In Germany, less tastefully, a statue of a Sabine woman, sported a well-crafted wrist warmer.
"Yarn Bombing"  (also known as Yarnstorming or knit graffiti) is, officially, an international movement of fiber fans who knit, crochet, and otherwise create works fiber works to enliven the surroundings in grey cities. They’ve covered phone booths, light poles, door knobs, and, of course, statues with unexpected color and texture. The phenom began in the Netherlands according to some sources in 2004.
There’s even an International Yarn Bombing Day in June of each year.
Who and why they're made varies, but as opposed to graffiti and street art, they rarely have political or social agendas and they're easily removed. Though some towns restrict it, it's rarely banned, since the work is easily removed, and, for some reason, most folks like it.
There are those who object, though. they point out that all the time and effort to make an oversized sweater for a statue which really can't feel the cold could more easily be put into making warm garments for the homeless and others who could really use it. But for now, I'll take clothing statues as a clear indication of how we related to public art. And that's a good thing.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

More on the Bird Project

For those who would like to make a pilgrimage to the birds in the Lost Bird Project I wrote about yesterday,  in their permanent homes, here's a great map from the website with detailed info on getting to them.


Carolina Parakeet- Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park north of Okeechobee, Florida.

Great Auk- Joe Batt's Point Fogo Island, Newfoundland

Heath Hen- Manuel F. Correllus State Forest off the Edgartown - West Tisbury Road on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.

Labrador Duck- Brand Park, along the Chemung River, in Elmira, New York.

Passenger Pigeon- Grange Insurance Audubon Center south of downtown Columbus, Ohio.

And the birds are still on tour. According to the project, The Lost Bird Project "Yes, the birds are still touring. Currently, there are three sets of the memorials that travel for temporary exhibits. Here's a list of current exhibits; all five sculptures are on exhibit at the Carey Center for Global Good in Rensselaerville, New York; the Passenger Pigeon, Labrador Duck and Carolina Parakeet are at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, California; and there is a Carolina Parakeet in the "Around the Horn" art exhibit in Hilton Head, South Carolina."

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Bringing Back the Dead

     “Extinction is Forever.”
      We've all heard it, all read the warnings that if we don't do something to save endangered species they'll join the death rolls as extinct. None will ever be seen again.
      What then?
      Do we forget  about them, tuck their quaint Audubon portraits into our school books, and tsk our way to the next environmental crisis?
      Or do we do something to avoid further extinction- that of forgetting them entirely?
     According to sculptor Todd McGrain, “Forgetting is another kind of extinction.”
     When McGrain read Chris Cokino's book ,"Hope is the Thing with Feathers; a Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds",  he selected five bygone species that spoke to him the most and resurrected them in blackened bronze.
     Why blackened bronze for the birds? According to the sculptor, it's because the medium gives the sense that these birds are in a black void.
     He called his work “The Lost Bird Project”.
(Photo from http://www.lostbirdproject.org/press-kit/)

     The Labrador Duck, the Passenger Pigeon, the Great Auk, the Carolina Parakeet, and the Heath Hen all took shape as huge minimalist sculptures that conveyed the spirit, rather than the details, of each bird. And they’re large- up to 6 feet tall, 750 lbs.
     “I want them to be big and ponderous,” McGrain told an interviewer. “but I also want them to be really big and beautiful.”
     To get the birds right, McGrain studied pictures and specimens of each bird at museums in Rome, Toronto, and Ithaca, NY. He kept a homing pigeon for a while to observe its actions and personality more closely.
     But they weren't meant to be just stand in museums.
     They were made to stand in the places where the last live birds of their type were sighted.
     That means that the Great Auk (which was like a penguin) ended up on Fogo Island in Newfoundland, and the Passenger Pigeon sits on the Audubon reserve in Columbus, OH, 50 miles away from where the last of the birds was shot by a 14 year old boy in 1900. Their sites lend them additional power and poignancy.
     Discovering them in the wild unexpectedly can be a visceral experience. Since McGrain believes that once you come in contact with and touch a bird, you will be more aware of what the world has lost.
     "Once you know something of the life of that species, you realize that not having it in the world is a huge loss," McGrain said.
     That often, of course, leads to taking action to protect today’s wild animals..
     According to the ASPCA, the US has 450 animal species on its endangered list, not only due to climate change, but due to man's actions. People who are aware of the loss we all suffer when these species are gone are more likely to do something to stop it.
    Last year, the film "The Lost Bird Project" began making the festival circuit. It tells not only about the birds themselves, but about the placement and making of the sculptures. You can see the trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHUEI47MFUs&feature=youtu.be  .
     In his unique way, McGrain brings art, history, and environment together.