Sculpture Restoration in Vermont

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

Giving Back

Giving back to the community is important to me. One of my pro bono projects is helping the Vermont State Curator, David Schutz, conserve the 'largest sculpture park in the world'!

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

The Story Begins in 1968

The Vermont educator and artist, Paul Aschenbach, gathered fellow sculptors from around the world to join him in the first International Sculpture Symposium in the US in 1968 followed by another in 1971. Sculpture symposia began in 1959 in St. Margarethen, Austria. Artists gathered in Vermont to live and create side-by-side. Supporting these 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 concrete manufacturer S.T. Griswold & Company (1971).

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

Marble and Concrete

Twenty-two sculptures were created during the symposia. Some were sold according to an agreement at the time among the artists, and one was damaged beyond repair during a later relocation effort. The remaining 16 can be viewed 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. Together they are now known as the ‘Sculpture on the Highway’.

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

My Role

First step is 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 restoration 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 last another 50 years and beyond.

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

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 created a conditions report 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.

‘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 fill cracks since the freeze/thaw cycle of Vermont weather causes the most damage - each year cracks get a bit wider and longer. The third 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.

Related Projects:

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. Some of 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.

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

Then a pleasant surprise!! The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), our state highway department, got wind of our efforts and offered to help. So, we're now working with VTrans to move sculptures and create foundations. We hope this begins in the fall.

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 the fall of 2020 with award announcements in the spring of 2021. If we're lucky and all goes as planned, all the work will be completed by the end of 2022, including exciting interpretive programs at rest stops, 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 with her sister and would like to see their uncle's artwork. Very cool! And one of my clients, the Office of Cultural Heritage (CH) of our US State Dept, has 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 are 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 seems to be a lot of positive energy gathering around this project. The stars are aligned! I'll keep you posted.

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 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 are also tracking down the artists that are still alive or the artists' 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 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, several wives, and how shunned he was by his family at first and then later so beloved.

Rita Reischke Bauer (left) and Sylvia Reischke
Rita Reischke Bauer (left) and Sylvia Reischke, nieces of Eric Reische, sitting on one of his sculptures.
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 3 hours listening to memories of his upbringing during the war in England, his teaching career in Oregon, then at the Pratt Institute in New York City, and then Goddard College in Vermont, and then the symposia that resulted in these sculptures. Each symposium lasting 2 months. He spoke about the artist and theirinfluences such as Louise Bourgeois and especially, for him, Alberto Giacometti.

He supports our plans for signage and foundations for each sculpture. His contribution to ‘Sculpture on the Highway’ was thought to be ‘Untitled’ but we discovered 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 or parked at the rest stop. We plan to move this sculpture and Peter enjoyed our suggestion of the Sharon Welcome Center where it will 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 piece 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. Perhaps another symposium, national and state Historic Register designation, the reconstruction of this piece, and other thrilling 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 South, destroyed years ago in an attempt to move it.
‘Untitled’ sculpture by Karl Prantl
‘Untitled’ by Karl Prantl 1968

Update: August 2020

We received one of the three grants, and are re-applying for the other two. This time around we are 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.

6 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

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