On July 19th we had our official ceremony to celebrate the Vision Box project installed in Old Lyme Connecticut. The boxes had been up or a good month and getting plenty of public use but this was the official reception, I like to think of it as the “opening of the eye” ritual. In Ancient figurative sculptures the eyes were the last thing to get added by the sculptor. It was believed that when the eyes were added the sculpture was finally filled with life and spirit. Though our boxes were not at all figurative they were about vision–of the kind that has a long view– and all of the boxes do feature the abstracted casting of a large eye.
The evening of the reception was exceptional, the temperature was in the 70’s and the sky was clear, not at all like the steamy weather earlier in the week. An audience of about 40-50 people gathered at the Lyme Art Academy. At the reception hosted by Dean Todd Jokl, we acknowledged all the people and groups who had made this project possible, made the necessary toasts and libations, and then announced that we would be taking a short walk to see two of the boxes located nearby. Thankfully all agreed to the idea and the group began to snake down Lyme street in the direction of Lyme Art Association, our first stop. The artist, Sara Nabel Drought, spoke about her painting featured on the box outside the Association and the history of the gallery and its founding by the American Impressionist painters.
We then crossed Lyme street to walk into the Champlain North refuge where the Barbizon oak is located. The group carefully made its way along the trail of high grass taking us past stone walls and foundations and then turned the wooded corner. In the clearing before us stood the grand Barbizon Oak dramatically spot lit by the setting sun.
We were spellbound by the spectacle. The Oak which had been muse to many artists and visitors for centuries looked like it had been expecting us. For those few magical moments the constant rumble of the highway running past the preserve disappeared. The wood thrush sang out and we were filled with the spirit of the place– the Oak had opened our eyes. And thanks to the vision of the Old Lyme Open Space commission the Oak was still there to work its magic in us.
Yesterday I had a perfect summer day to take a walk in Old Lyme to check in on the Vision Boxes. The boxes were installed in mid- June thanks to a great deal of community collaboration and support. At mid afternoon, Great blue herons, egrets and mute swans were busy along the shoreline sites as were kayakers and fishermen. The coastline boxes, one on the viewing platform on the boardwalk at Ferry Landing and the other at Watch Rock had a seen a great deal of public engagement. The notebooks in the boxes were full of comments and a bit soggy from the recent rains. I needed to put two new notebooks in.
At the board walk I met a local resident from Old Saybrook who often comes out to sit and reflect from the viewing platform. He offered to steward the box- so it now has several sentinels, the State workers at DEP Marine Headquarters are also watching it.
Inland I visited the Barbizon Oak box sited on land protected by the Open Space commission, next to the Old Lyme Inn and across from the Florence Griswold Museum. The walk in is through the woods and along a small meadow. There are the stone remains of a large barn and along the trail are impressive anthills created by Formica ants.
As you get closer to the oak made famous as the inspiration for numerous paintings from the American Impressionists, the roar of Interstate 95 drowns out the bird calls and wind in the trees. The highway noise reminds one of what could have happened to this grand oak – it too could have been chopped down for our relentless need for progress.
But now in this patch of forest glade protected by the Old Lyme’s Open space commission one hears the conflict we face more and more of how to manage the land, and for whom? The trail of Vision boxes will be up into early September so you can take your own walk and reflect. On July 19th there will be a reception for the project at the Lyme Art Academy with a short walk planned to two of the boxes. Here is the map with the four sites so you can take your own walk.
For me, wood is a material that is akin to human skin. We see its history, its growth marks, how its been loved abused and broken- then grown back around those scars. The wood in my sculpture comes from the forest I live, walk, and dream in.
This month I’ve been working on full size pieces for “Forest Memoir” , preparing to cast them in bronze. The initial work will feature two chairs growing back into the forest.
All the final elements for the Vision Box project for Old Lyme, Connecticut, are coming together. The permits for the sites are in, the graphic designer is working on our logo and mapping, the collaborating artists have done their beautiful panels and I’m just finishing the sculptural elements. Their installation on May 30th will mark four special places in town, the sites along the marshes, river front and woodland still look like they might have a century earlier when the plein air painters first discovered Old Lyme at the turn of the 20th century. Thanks to efforts of conservation organizations in town we can still enjoy the beauty and wildness that attracted the artists.
Once its all up plan on a visit and walk through Old Lyme to visit the boxes. More on the project and its generous sponsors soon.
At the end of May, I finish up as the first Schumann Foundation Visiting Artist in Environmental Art at Lyme Art Academy.My last class was last week and I’m preparing for the public lecture I will deliver on Thursday, May 10th entitled: Vision /The Artist’s Gaze and the American Land Conservation Movement. The idea for the talk comes out of the process of creating a collaborative public art piece which will be installed in June at numerous sites in town. For the past few months, weather permitting, I’ve walked the marshlands along the Connecticut River and tromped through forests and fields. I’ve been following in the footsteps of the plein air painters who’ve been inspired by this area, most notably the artists who made up the American Impressionist Colony at the turn of the 20th century.The artists came for the quality of light by the river, the open fields, mature trees and the hospitality to be found at the boarding house owned by Florence Griswold. Today the house and its grounds are the Florence Griswold Museum, presenting the works of the American Impressionists as well as dynamic contemporary exhibitions.
My companions during my walks have been residents and local stewards who are alsobusy working on local land trusts. Thanks to them and others like them, many of these places in Old Lyme that I explored are now under conservation retaining many of the qualities that would have attracted the painters more than a century ago and continue to inspire artists today. As the months went by I began to make the connection between artistic and conservation vision, I realized that what had happened in Old Lyme was a unique microcosm of what had happened in other parts of the country.
Places like Yosemite andYellowstone Park were documented by artists long before they were even parks. It was their artistic gaze, their paintings and photographs that opened people’s eyes to the majesty and importance of wild and open spaces in our country, eventually encouraging policy makers to preserve large tracts of land. The talk on Thursday will touch on this history and introduce the public to the public art project entitled “Vision Boxes” which will be installed by the beginning of June.
The talk is open to the public, I hope you can join us.
If you listen long enough in the forest you begin to hear the untold stories. Three years ago I began to dream of trees on wheels because I sensed that trees wanted to move. They have an intelligence that is as sophisticated as our human species– maybe more so. The mind of the forest is a collective mind which is all underfoot as we walk through the forest, their roots come together to communicate and help each other with a network made up of fungi.
But back to the trees moving- they are moving as a species because of climate change. A recent article in the Atlantic Magazine, informs us that they are moving more West then North as scientists expected. So I’m not crazy, trees do have a life of their own that we barely comprehend, and they are moving.
Thanks to the winter weather the talk for Feb 8th was rescheduled. I’ll be talking on Wednesday, February 28th about the inspiration for the installation “What We Choose to Remember…” based on one of my trips back to Cuba. The piece is part of a group exhibition curated by Alva Greenberg, On Another Note: The Intersection of Art and Music