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. The sculptors gathered in Vermont to live and create art 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).
Marble and Concrete
Twenty-two sculptures were created during these two 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 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 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.
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.
The first priority is to move those that are too close to a roadway, or in a location 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 will do the most damage - each year those 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:
- Restoration of Maya Lin Sculptures in Istanbul
- Dusting the Buddha
- Sculpture Restoration in London
- Graffiti Removal in Vermont
- Fountain Restoration in Lisbon
- Unusual Pool Tile Art Restoration in Manila
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.
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 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 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 our 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 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.
Update: October 2019
Our group continues to meet, visit the sites, and plan for their preservation. We are 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 artist’s family members. Three are still alive – Ruddick, Silva, and Katsuji (http://www.kishidakatsuji.com).
We just met with two sisters who are nieces of Erich Reischke. They came from California to see his sculpture. Byron and Bob 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.
The 2 nieces of Erich Reischke: Rita Reischke Bauer (left) and 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.
Peter Ruddick, Bob Hannum, and Byron Breese in Paul & Elizabeth’s Restaurant, Northampton MA 10/7/19
Peter Ruddick’s ‘Sextant’ at a closed weigh station on I-89 South in Sharon
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 Historic Register designation, the reconstruction of this piece, and other thrilling possibilities.
Kishida Katsuji sculpture at the Sharon Rest Stop, destroyed years ago in an attempt to move it.