ECOARTS SCULPTURE WALK
July 30, 2021
5.30.19 – 3:30 PM
Thunder echoes across Harbin Mountain, rolling down the hills into the Collayomi Valley. Children spread out around the installed artwork, laughing, stumbling, and posting their “wishes” on manzanita branches. It’s a group of fourth and fifth graders from Cobb Mountain Elementary who have spent their time learning about bats, building bat houses, and now are spending their time installing them, along with their wishes at Trailside Park in Middletown. It’s the rebirth of the EcoArts Sculpture Walk.
“A lot of these kids lost their homes in the fires,” Kristen Callahan says, herding a group in a new direction. “This is a way to get back the other things we didn’t think about. We’ve been caught up in the trauma for so long.”
It’s not just elementary kids; the Cobb Junior Girl Scout troop also attends, wearing patch-covered vests.
“You’re earning two new badges today,” Kristen tells the kids. “Sculpture and Habitat. A few cheer.
Thunder bounces across the valley again. The grey-black sky flashes with lightning.
5.19.19 – 1 PM
Karen Turcotte pulls her dark-rimmed glasses away from her face and lets them hang by their purple chain. Her blue eyes glimmer with intensity.
“It’s a locus,” she says, leaning forward to emphasize her point. “Years ago, I had a conversation with Lisa Kaplan about our Genius Loci, or the spirit of a place. Lisa stored it away and then brought it out for the reopening of EcoArts Sculpture Walk. It’s truly amazing.”
Her dark blonde hair shines against her light skin. “You can see it in the geographical triangle of the Middletown Art Center, Rabbit Hill, and Trailside Park. With locus, we start with a stake in the ground, something that says, ‘We are here.’” She gestures with each word, emphasizing the syllables.
For Karen, her stake in the ground centers around Trailside Park. She’s a sculptor, and, like many sculptors in the county in the early 2000’s, had nowhere in Lake County to show her work. So she presented her case to the Arts Council. In response, they gave her a choice of a mural or sculpture walk.
“Of course, we chose a sculpture walk,” she says, as though no question ever lingered in her mind. Her husband John Randall Williams sits beside her, sharing the story of the birth of EcoArts. These two have had a lasting impact on the arts in Lake County. From developing the first sculpture walk in 2005 to helping birth the Middletown Art Center in 2015, their reach has been broad.
“They gave us three choices for a location,” Karen continues. Her black outfit contrasts against the brightness of her spirit. “The first was Rodman Slough; then there was another one that was just horrible.” She pauses for a second, thinking. “I can’t even remember it. But as we pulled into the parking lot at Trailside Park, I bawled my eyes out. It was so perfect.”
“How many artists did you have for that first show?” I ask.
“We had four artists at first.”
“And you have a piece in the reopening, correct?”
“I do. She reaches down beneath the table and pulls out a sphere of wrapped, glued jute. “I’m making a series of balls. The largest is going to be forty inches, and and one like this will be inside it, with an even smaller ball inside this one, filled with earth and wildflower seeds. The idea is that as the wind blows, the balls will roll around and spread flower seeds. I call it Tumbleseeds.”
She holds the ball in her glue-stained hands, twisting it around. “I was inspired by a video I saw about an Afghani refugee who built an inexpensive way to remove landmines by putting plunger-like attachments on a ball. Then, as the wind blew, the ball would move across the minefield and detonate mines. It showed me how to contribute artistically in the midst of devastation.” She smiles, her blue eyes glowing. “That’s the journey of the piece. From landmines to wildflowers.”
5.30.19 – 3:45 PM
Lightning scratches across the sky. The huge thunderhead moves slowly towards the park.
“I kind of like the lightning,” Kristen says. “It’s goth, just like the bats we’ve been studying.”
The manzanitas are filled with ‘wishes’ by now, small cards flapping in the gusting, warm wind. Kids, finished with their task, head back to the bench. Rain is in the air.
“I love the smell,” a girl says.
Thunder rumbles once again across the sky.
“It’s the sound,” another replies. “It’s so cool.”
5.11.19 – 10:30 AM
The morning sun still works upward as the group starts working on the piece, the first of Middletown Art Center’s LOCUS classes supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. A few chisel away rotted wood from the back of the nine-foot oak artist Marcus Maria Jung found lying half-burned in a corner of the park.
Earlier, Marcus had placed three of these totems under the shadows of a giant oak that survived the fire. Right now, he’s pull-starting his chainsaw. Everyone steps back a bit as he cross-hatches the back of a log, then moves to ease an edge of the piece.
“I know another guy who does this with chainsaws,” Glenneth Lambert says as Marcus stands back eyeing the wood, his chainsaw idling.
“Is it bears?” Marcus quickly replies.
Glenneth pauses. “Well yeah. And other things.”
“It’s usually bears,” Marcus smiles, then shuts off his saw.
People move back to the logs, sanding, chiseling, smoothing. It’s a collaborative piece, and Marcus moves around it, guiding one person’s tool here, suggesting another person use sandpaper there. There’s a dynamic movement happening within the group, bringing out the innate beauty still breathing in a slab of burned wood.
RESURRECTION, Marcus named the piece. “Envisioning and shaping a future and a new world to come that is sustainable and grounded in a co-creative partnership with nature is the essence of this art piece,” Marcus wrote to me later. “In giving our attention to the scarred and wounded landscapes of our planet, we invite nature to come back, and healing occurs within and without.”
I step back and look, as the group continues their work. My eyes move from the darkness of the charcoaled tree, to the overarching branches overhead, to the mountains behind. They’re green with spring.
5.30.19 – 4:00 PM
A spot of rain touches my arm. The thunderhead arches its way across the valley to Mount St. Helena, pillaring the sky.
“I want the children to understand that other animals lost their homes,” Kristen continues. “And we’re creating habitat for them.”
Michelle Cox and Gwendolyn Maupin-Ahern of the Lake County International Charter School in Middletown agree. They’re putting the final touches on a piece their students created. “We’re done talking about the burned trees and fires,” she says definitively. “We now talk about what’s coming back.”
Instead of just grass, brush is popping up. Manzanitas and oaks work their way skywards. Sculpture studs the landscape. Lisa Kaplan, walks fom artist to artist, chatting with them. Lisa, Programs Director of the Middletown Art Center, took over EcoArts from Karen Turcotte in 2012. As one of the key people in the rebirth of the Sculpture Walk, she puts it this way: “We are in the same, but very different environment. The park is so active with growth. And our sculptures are popping up beautifully with artists who participated in the past and new eco-artists.
“We have been waiting nearly four years for this moment and are very excited,” she continues. “My work this year speaks of the Valley Fire experience on my own and our collective psyche. But the Middletown Art Center is activating the power of the arts and creativity to heal while growing our local culture, and a renewed and emerging sense of place.”
Hence LOCUS, the stake in the ground for something new and beautiful.
This article first appeared in The Bloom. To read more like it, visit their website.