Sculpture on the Highway

‘Untitled’ sculpture by Herbert Baumann 1968
‘Untitled’ by Herbert Baumann 1968

The Story Begins in 1968

"OK, now what?!" Or so I imagine the words of Paul Aschenbach standing in front of over twenty monumental sculptures. He'd gathered artists from all over the world - the United States, Austria, Japan, South Africa, Germany, and Yugoslavia - to create these huge works of art in stone and concrete.

Now, where to put them? Too big for most museums.

Aschenbach was associate professor of art at the University of Vermont. He brought together fellow sculptors for the Vermont Sculpture Symposium in 1968, 1971, and 1990. The first two would result in what is now called 'Sculpture on the Highway', the largest sculpture park in the world!

The Symposia

The Vermont Sculpture Symposium was inspired by a worldwide movement known as the International Sculpture Symposium which was started 1959 by the Austrian sculptor Karl Prantl who participated in the first Vermont symposium.

As noted in Wikipedia,

This initiative grew from the need to facilitate communication and exchange between members of the international sculpture community. It was also rooted in Cold War tensions, which lent a particular urgency to the need for cross-cultural dialogue on a person-to-person basis. The first international sculpture symposium took place in an abandoned stone quarry in Sankt Margarethen im Burgenland."

'Axe VIII’ sculpture by Bradford Graves 1971
'Axe VIII’ by Bradford Graves 1971

Prantl organized several sculpture symposia in Europe and elsewhere including Japan, Israel, and Canada.

Supporting Vermont's symposia were grants from the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts which matched goods and services provided by two regional industrial benefactors, the Vermont Marble Company (1968) and the concrete manufacturer S.T. Griswold & Company (1971).

Four Towers by Eduardo Ramirez
'Cuarto Torres’ (Four Towers) by Eduardo Ramirez 1971

Marble and Concrete

Twenty-two sculptures were created during Vermont's first two symposia. Some were sold according to an agreement among the artists, including a sculpture by Clement Meadmore. One was damaged beyond repair during a later relocation effort. The remaining sixteen were placed 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 and applied concrete created in the second symposium.

'Untitled’ by Viktor Rogy 1968
'Untitled’ by Janez Lenassi 1968

My Role

Giving back to the community is important to me. One of my pro bono projects is helping the Vermont State Curator, David Schutz, conserve these important artworks.

The first step was to inspect the condition of each sculpture for grant proposals David and his team plan to submit. One of the grants, 'Save America's Treasures', seeks federal money for conservation.

Some sculptures need to be moved. Some need foundations. All need to be cleaned. Cracks, chips, and graffiti need attention. The good news is that they're all in remarkably good condition for 50 years old. With timely and proper attention, they can last another 50 years and beyond.

'Untitled' by Minoru Niizuma 1968
'Untitled’ by James Silva 1971

The Adventure Begins

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. At times I felt like Indiana Jones and Benjamin Gates! Eventually, I found them all.

I created conditions reports and plans for repairs and on-going maintenance. The goal, as explained by Vermont's State Curator, is not to bring these sculptures back to their original condition but rather to delay the natural deterioration for as long as possible.

‘Untitled’ by Rudolph Uher 1971
Yasuo Mizui sculpture 1968
'Trois Traces' by Yasuo Mizui 1968
Isaac Witkin sculpture 1971
'Untitled' by Isaac Witkin 1971
Carl Floyd sculpture 1971
'Untitled' by Carl Floyd 1971

Conservation Needs

The first priority is to move those that are too close to a roadway, or in locations susceptible to vandalism, or in areas that are now inaccessible to the public. The second priority is to give them all sturdy foundations. Next, fill cracks since the freeze/thaw cycle of Vermont weather causes the most damage. Each year cracks get a bit wider and longer.

Another major concern is 'sugaring'. This is a kind of degradation to the surface of outdoor marble. The cause is weather, acid rain, pine needles, bird droppings - just about every outdoor condition. Marble is simply not a great choice for outdoor sculpture. Over time, smooth marble surfaces turn into tiny rough grains of stone the texture of sugar.

Other needs can wait a bit longer if necessary, such as chip repair, coating exposed rebar, removing graffiti, cleaning off moss, dirt, and mold, and installing signage.

Related Projects:

Signage of some kind is important not only for interpretation, but also for preservation. Research shows that some kind of label next to outdoor art reduces vandalism. But signage right next to these works is a problem. Signage was not the artist's original intent. Many symposia artists felt that signage and even titles impede a viewers encounter with art. So we'll have to give further thought to this issue. Maybe signage at the beginning of a long path leading to the sculpture? We'll see.

‘Untitled’ by A. Dieter Trantenroth 1971
cracks in the concrete sculpture of ‘Untitled’ by A. Dieter Trantenroth 1971
Cracks in the sculptures are a high priority

VTrans to the Rescue

Then a pleasant surprise! The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), our state highway department, got wind of our efforts and offered to help. Now we're working with VTrans to move sculptures and create foundations. We plan to begin this critical first stage in preservation when Covid subsides.

Getting Started

The plan is to move some of the sculptures to high-use rest areas to reduce the risk of vandalism and enable visitors to walk around them. Others will have their current areas cleaned and improved.

‘Untitled’ by Erich Reischke 1968
‘Untitled’ sculpture by Paul Aschenbach 1971
‘Untitled’ by Paul Aschenbach 1971

Grant applications will be submitted in 2020 and 2021. If we're lucky and all goes as planned, work will be completed by the end of 2023, including exciting interpretive programs at rest stops, welcome centers, and websites.

In the meantime, we're organizing 'Friends of Sculpture on the Highway', a group of the original artists, their family members and friends, and interested citizens to join us in advocacy, fundraising, and brainstorming. Please join us by contacting me with a comment below or emailing me directly at rwhannum@gmail.com. All are welcome to join in this exciting project!

These sixteen sculptures are an important piece of Vermont history. They hold a unique place in contemporary art as works of significance and value that must not be neglected.

Update: August 2019

The niece of one of the sculptors, Erich Reischke, just contacted me! She read this article and is coming to visit Vermont this fall with her sister and would like to see their uncle's artwork.

Also, one of my clients, the Office of Cultural Heritage (CH) of our US State Dept, just offered to review our conservation plans. CH is 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're a wonderful group of people and I'm thrilled to be working with them!

As one of the members of our group recently remarked, there's a lot of positive energy gathering around this project. The stars are aligned!

Update: October 2019

Our group continues to meet, visit the sites, and plan for their preservation. We're now focused on several grant applications for funding, such as the federal ‘Save America’s Treasures’ grant and a couple of state highway grants, one of which we have already received for planning. So, we are gathering all our notes and estimates – wish us luck!

In the meantime, we continue to search for the artists that are still alive or their family members. Three are still alive – Ruddick, Silva, and Katsuji.

We just met with two sisters who are nieces of Erich Reischke. They came from California to see his sculpture. Byron Brees who heads our volunteer group, and I, spent an afternoon with them at their uncle’s sculpture, talking and reminiscing.

They shared memories of Erich’s fascinating and unusual life – living on a commune, becoming a Sikh, shunned by his family, and then later beloved.

Rita Reischke Bauer (left) and Sylvia Reischke
Rita Reischke Bauer (left) and Sylvia Reischke, nieces of Eric Reischke, sitting on his sculpture.
Sylvia Reischke, niece of Eric Reische standing next to one of his sculptures
Sylvia Reischke

Yesterday Byron and I traveled to Northampton, MA, about 2.5 hours drive south to meet halfway, Peter Ruddick and his friend who drove up from New York City where Peter has an art exhibition. He lives in California.

We spent three hours listening to memories of his upbringing in England during the WWII, his teaching career in Oregon, then at the Pratt Institute in New York City, and then Goddard College in Vermont. He spoke at length of his recollection of both Vermont symposia. Each one lasted about two months. He spoke about the artists that influenced him most such as Louise Bourgeois and especially, for him, Alberto Giacometti. I was particularly enthralled since I'd recently restored a Bourgeois sculpture at our ambassador's residence in London, and Giacometti is my all-time favorite, too!

Peter supports our plans for signage and foundations for his sculpture and all the others. His contribution to ‘Sculpture on the Highway’ was thought to be ‘Untitled’ but we discovered that it’s ‘Sextant’. He explained the influences behind it such as climbing over bunkers and looking thru machine gun sites left over from the war in England as a child.

He explained that he and the other artists were involved in choosing the location and exact placement of their pieces. For him the circle of 'Sextant' framed the mountains in the distance and the diamond framed cars on the highway and parked at the rest stop. We plan to move this sculpture and Peter enjoyed our suggestion of the Sharon Welcome Center where it could once again align with a view of the mountains at one end and the highway at the other.

Plans are also afoot to reconstruct a missing sculpture by Kishida Katsuji who is still alive. It was destroyed years ago while trying to move it.

All of these remarkable pieces are 50 years old in 2021, so we’re considering ways to mark the occasion, such as another symposium, national and state Historic Register designation, the reconstruction of this piece, and other exciting possibilities.

Peter Ruddick, Bob Hannum, and Byron Breese
Peter Ruddick, Bob Hannum, and Byron Breese in Paul & Elizabeth’s Restaurant, Northampton, MA 10/7/19
‘Sextant' by Peter Ruddick
Peter Riddick’s ‘Sextant’ at a closed weigh station on I-89 South in Sharon
Sculpture on the Highway by Kishida Katsuji
Kishida Katsuji sculpture at Sharon Rest Stop, I-89 North, destroyed years ago in an attempt to move it.
‘Untitled’ sculpture by Karl Prantl
‘Untitled’ by Karl Prantl 1968

Update: March 2020

A local reporter from 'Seven Days' called me. He saw this post and wanted to know more about 'Sculpture on the Highway.' He mentioned that Kate Pond participated in these symposia and that she lives close-by. So began my adventure with Ms. Pond!

"What Is the Large Metallic Structure at the Border in Highgate?" is a wonderful article about the work of the prominent Vermont sculptor Kate Pond. She and I are in conversation about her memories as a student of Paul Aschenbach and Clement Meadmore, prominent players in "Sculpture on the Highway'. The article mentions a third Vermont sculpture symposium organized by Paul Aschenbach in 1990. Sculptures from this symposium can now be seen in Battery Park in Burlington.

More about Kate as our conversations continue.

Update: August 2020

We received one of the four grants we're going after. Had to reaply for the other three. This is a blessing in disguise since now we're adding support from artists, family members, art organizations, and other interested parties.

We've discovered that the symposia resumed about 20 years ago in Maine resulting in 34 sculptures found in cities and towns along 200 miles of the northern Maine coast from Castine to Eastport. Known as the Maine Sculpture Trail, five consecutive symposia were founded by the Maine sculptor Jesse Salisbury. So we'll be exploring these connections as well.

Jesse has joined our 'Friends of Sculpture on the Highway.'

Update: February 2021

Our big federal grant application to 'Save America's Treasures' has just been submitted! Very exciting! It's such a strong application with contributions from so many over so much time. It's brought so many wonderful people together. We hear by the spring - wish us luck!

Our 'Friends' Director Byron Breese just found this video of Karl Prantl who passed away in 2010 at the age of 87.

 

10 Responses

  1. The Janez Lenassi work that you have listed here may be the same one that is listed in his monograph, which can be found online. The page that references the work here in Vermont is on page 109. Here is a link to the monograph:

    > https://janezlenas.si/#

    …I hope you find this helpful.

    1. Hi Donald,
      Very helpful. You must have read my mind – the team I’m working with to preserve these beautiful monumental artworks is spending the next several months gathering all available info about each artist and contacting those still alive. I just had lunch yesterday with Peter Ruddick, one of the other artists of the ‘Sculpture on the Highway’.

      This is definitely the Lenassi that we have, though one of the 2 elements is now on its side. This coming spring we plan to start the wonderful process of restoring all 16 sculptures. Thanks for this. What is your interest in this project and how did you know about the Lenassi monograph??? Can I add our exchange and your name as an update to this article?

      Thanks again,
      Bob

  2. You must be aware of the sculptures in the Downeast area of Maine created in a similar fashion earlier in this cententury. My husband and I spend time in East Machias and have enjoyed finding these sculputres when out and about.
    Karen Cheney

  3. Hi Karen,
    Thank you for this excellent comment. A member of our group heard that the Symposia had resumed in Maine, but had no idea what the outcome was. We will follow up on this. Much appreciated.
    Be well,
    Bob

  4. Over the years we have enjoyed several of these works by accident. This summer we stopped in a different part of the south bound I89, Randolph? rest area and noticed the “untitled” by Erich Reischke hidden at the end of the picnic area. We went to look, and enjoyed seeing it a lot. Marj looked up the sculpture project and found this web site. The original project was great, and your restoration project sounds wonderful.
    Is there a map to help us all find the rest of the remaining pieces? Thanks, Keep us informed, Good luck on the grants. Best, Malcolm and Marj

    1. Hi Marj and Malcolm,
      Just wanted to alert you to new info we’ve gathered since your last comment. See the updates. And we’d like to invite you to join our ‘Friends of Sculpture on the Highway’ – a diverse group of the original artists, their family members and friends, and interested citizens like yourselves.

      Hope you are well,
      Bob

  5. Hello,

    I was searching current status of “Trois Traces” by Yasuo Mizui and could find your website.

    I quickly checked at Vermont Marble Company Chips, Proctor, Vermont, August – September 1968 (company booklet?) where you could see Mizui on the face cover of the book. Probably you already have the booklet via VMC, where you can find all participants photos of sculpture symposium in page 4. I am one of relatives of Yasuo and Kiyoko Mizui (she is my great aunt).

    Unfortunately, up to now, we do not have any Mizui’s formal website where you could see his all artworks (we only have those in his catalogues and fotos). So I have started to upload it at instagram to start from scratch based on his catalogues /fotos/etc:
    https://www.instagram.com/p/Bf6lKGLny4_/

    Once I tried to also edit wikipedia about international sculpture symposium in Vermont, but it obviously erased by wiki member.

    Anyway, thank you for your effort and hopefully rescue grant will be accepted in the future so that those memorable sculptures and friendship through sculpture symposium could last forever!

  6. Hello Ms. Inoue!
    So good to hear from you. A colleague and I were just talking about your great grandfather’s sculpture! It’s now in a heavily overgrown area next to a dumping zone for our highway department, in an old rest area that’s now closed to the public. All Three pieces tumbled over on their sides years ago, so we were remarking how exciting it will be to relocate this wonderful sculpture to a safe place, give it a secure foundation, and clean it up! How amazing that you have contacted us at this time. We are overjoyed! Please, please tell me all you remember or have heard about your great grandfather. How about a zoom meeting sometime – I would love to meet you. Accounts like yours from family members and friends are so valuable to us. And I’ll be sure Wikipedia is updated as per your wishes. May we add you to our growing group of ‘Friends of Sculpture on the Highway’ as a ‘Heritage Member’, our most special group of family members and close friends? Hope to hear from you soon – thank you so much for reaching out and connecting with us.
    All the best,
    Bob

  7. This is wonderful news! My mother shared a crib in China in the early 1920’s with Paul Aschenbach’s first wife Anna. When I was a child we visited them several times & I was enthralled watching Paul pound out red hot wrought iron sculptures in his barn/forge in Charlotte. Watching him work helped set me on the path to being the artist that I am today.

    Thanks for doing this important work!

    Mark Brown

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