Some of my work is giving back to my community.
One of my pro bono projects is helping the Vermont State Curator, David Schutz, conserve the 'largest sculpture park in the world'!
The Story Begins in 1968
The Vermont educator and artist, Paul Aschenbach, gathered fellow sculptors from around the world to join him in two symposia held in 1968 and 1971. Eleven sculptors gathered to live and create art side-by-side. Supporting these symposia were grants from the Vermont Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts which matched goods and services provided by two regional industrial benefactors, the Vermont Marble Company (1968) and concrete manufacturer S.T. Griswold & Company (1971).
Marble and Concrete
22 sculptures were created during these 2 symposia. Some were sold as was the agreement at the time among the artists involved and 1 was damaged beyond repair during a later relocation effort. The remaining 16 were installed at rest areas along 400 miles of Vermont highways I-91 and I-89. Half are marble created in the first symposium and the other half are reinforced cast or applied concrete created in the second symposium. Together they are now known as the ‘Sculpture on the Highway’.
I volunteered to inspect the condition of each sculpture for a grant proposal David and his team are preparing to submit later this year. The grant seeks resources to conserve the sculptures. Some need to be moved, some need foundations, and all need to be cleaned. Many cracks and chips need repair and graffiti needs to be removed. The good news is that they're all in remarkably good condition for 50 years old, and with timely and proper attention, they can all last another 50 years and beyond.
So off I went to find these huge objects. Some were difficult to locate, obscured by forest growth, blocked by fencing, or in areas that are now closed to the public. Eventually, I found them all.
I wrote up the conditions of each and a plan for conservation and on-going maintenance. The goal is not to bring them back to their original condition but rather to delay the natural deterioration for as long as possible. Each sculpture is prioritized according to their need - from most at-risk to least.
The first priority is to move those that are too close to a roadway, or in a location susceptible to vandalism or graffiti, or in areas that are now inaccessible to the public. The second priority is to fill cracks since the freeze/thaw cycle of Vermont weather will do the most damage - each year those cracks will get wider and longer. The third most important priority is to create a foundation for those that don’t have one. Other needs can wait if necessary, such as chip repair, coating and covering exposed rebar, removing graffiti, signage, and cleaning off moss, dirt, and mold.
Signage of some kind is an interesting factor. Research shows that some kind of label next to outdoor art reduces vandalism. But signage right next to these works is not recommended in order to honor the original intent. The symposia artists decided that titles and signage impeded the viewers encounter with these monumental artworks. So we'll have to brainstorm on this issue - maybe signage at the beginning of a long path leading to the sculpture? We'll see.
Then a miracle happened! The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), our state highway department, got wind of our efforts and offered to help. So, we are now working with VTrans to move and create foundations for those that need it which we hope begins this fall.
The plan is to move some of the sculptures to high-use rest areas to eliminate the risk of vandalism and so that visitors can walk around them. Others will have their current areas cleaned and improved.
Grant applications will be submitted this fall with awards announced in the spring of 2020. If we're lucky and all goes as planned, the rest of the work will be completed next year including exciting interpretive programs at our rest stops and welcome centers and websites!
We’re keeping our fingers crossed! These 16 sculptures are an important piece of Vermont history. They hold a unique place in contemporary art as the largest sculpture park in the world. They are works of significance and value that must not be neglected.
Update: August 2019: The niece of one of the artists, Erich Reischke, just contacted me! She read this article and is coming to visit Vermont this fall and would like to see her uncle's artwork. Very cool! And one of my clients, the Office of Cultural Heritage of our US State Dept, has offered to review our grant proposals and conservation plans. They are a small team of incredibly talented art conservators who travel the world repairing the vast collection of art in our embassies and ambassador residences abroad. They are a wonderful group of people and I'm thrilled over their generous offer of their valuable time on this project!
As one of the members of our group recently remarked, there seems to be a lot of positive energy gathering around this project. The stars are aligned! I'll keep you posted.