SculptureNow prepares 30-piece exhibit at The Mount

Prep Sculpture
Nancy Winship Milliken stands in front of her sculpture, “Stall.” The 15-foot by 15-foot piece is made of reclaimed cello bowstrings and fishing net. Milliken’s art, along with 29 other installations, will be available for viewing June 11.

LENOX – SculptureNow, in partnership with The Mount, is currently preparing works ahead of their June 11 show, one that – while it has no theme – emphasizes the beauty of the grounds Edith Wharton once called home.

Over the course of a rainy, overcast May 30, 15 pieces of installation art, namely sculptures, arrived at The Mount. The latest-arriving pieces joined an already bountiful list of works being installed on the estate grounds that day.

SculptureNow Executive Director Ann Jon was onsite, directing the flow of installations and keeping an eye on progress.

Trucks pulled in. Trucks pulled out. A crew of workers laid wood panels across the field in front of the stables. Golf carts whizzed by.

But Jon was guiding artists to their vacant installation spots when she turned and introduced herself and the nonprofit.

“It’s our 18th year as a continuous yearly exhibit,” Jon said of SculptureNow’s continuing success. “It’s our fifth year at The Mount.”

In regards to the lack of theme, Jon dismissed the idea: “We want to give the artists freedom,” she said.

Jon then walked over to artist Nancy Winship Milliken. Milliken was standing beside her 15-foot-by-15-foot sculpture when their conversation began.

Milliken’s sculpture, titled “Stall,” is crafted with fishing nets and reclaimed cello bowstrings – repurposed horsehair, essentially – and is supported by a square, steel frame. The bowstrings, Milliken said, come from the New York and Philadelphia area and help tie her sculpture into The Mount’s historical resonance.

“It’s a memorial for the New England landscape,” Milliken said as she fastened more bowstrings onto her large, sprawling fishing net. “This piece is related to the stable and the riding here but also to Tanglewood. It ties everything nicely together.”

The cello strings were hand-woven and strung into the fishing net by Milliken over the course of what she described as “months and months and months” of hard work. Milliken made the netting ahead of time. Its frame was put into place only recently.

Milliken’s “Stall” is one of 30 pieces slated for SculptureNow’s annual art show at The Mount.

“It goes all the way back,” Jon said, smiling. “It’s new territory for us.”

According to Jon, the show, which kicks off June 11 and closes Oct. 31, comprises strictly “all new pieces” of art. It is also “the most” SculptureNow “has ever done” at once, she said.

June 11’s reception will include guided tours of the grounds – led by the exhibit’s artists – and a reception on the mansion’s terrace. State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, will make opening remarks. Last year’s reception saw upwards of 250 people.

More tours are planned for July 6, Aug. 13, Sept. 17 and Oct. 5, all of which start at 1:30 p.m.

Additionally, “bus loads of kids,” as Jon described it, from the Farmington River Regional School District in Otis, will be making a stop at the exhibit. So will vision-impaired students from the Pittsfield Public Schools system.

“We did one last year and it was so successful,” Jon said in heavy accent. “The kids are great.”

But plans for mid-June feel far off. Discussing the detail of what was to come seemed almost off topic for Jon – after all, sculptures were still arriving at The Mount on May 30, a process that began May 23 and churned through Memorial Day weekend.

“There’s a couple more pieces coming in. It’s an ongoing process,” Jon said.

One of those pieces was Matt Crane’s “Avoidance Attractor (Tower).”

Crane – a person who describes himself as “not a sculptor,” but rather a “person who makes sculpture” – spent the morning of May 30 assembling his cannibalized, inverted billboard-reminiscent work of art. He apologized for arriving to the scene late: his truck’s rear end blew out the morning of the move.

“Avoidance Attractor (Tower)” is a 12-foot-by-13-foot metal behemoth. It is the third iteration of similar works done by Crane. Earlier versions could be spotted at the University of Albany, where it was hung at a “three-quarters” angle and was called “Ghost,” Crane said.

According to Crane, passersby will recognize his work – not because he is famous, but because his work’s shape is so hauntingly present in day-to-day life.

“I want people to think of the structures of our built-world more poetically,” Crane said, agreeing that “Avoidance Attractor (Tower)” is strikingly similar to a stripped city billboard.

Susan Wissler, The Mount’s executive director, joined the assembly fray that morning, as well. In striking up a conversation with Jon, Wissler explained the nuances – and general purpose – of the upcoming show.

“It just adds a whole layer to the Mount experience,” Wissler said. “The stop-points make tourers take their time and look around.”

According to Wissler, adding sculpture to the estate’s manicured and artistic grounds makes visitors take in the work that already surrounds them. If The Mount’s grounds are the outfit, sculpture is the statement piece.

“The shows just get better and better,” Wissler said. “It’s a wonderful partnership… we’ve become widely known as a place for artists to display their work.”

Harold Grinspoon, an 87-year-old Massachusetts artist, chose The Mount for that very reason.

Grinspoon’s work, “The Beauty of Nature,” was still being installed – hung, rather – on the misty May 30 morning.

“The Beauty of Nature” is a one-of-a-kind, 35-foot tall, three-piece wooden sculpture carved from a single cherry tree that fell in Grinspoon’s backyard.

“I said, ‘Let’s take it and dice it,’” Grinspoon said as he presided over the crane crew charged with assembling his towering, slithering work. “The beauty of wood is while it’s living and after it’s died.”

“The Beauty of Nature” is not alone in the creative headspace Grinspooon calls home. According to him, there are several other versions using the same technique and muse. But the one settling in at The Mount is special. This version “gives people the opportunity to see nature,” he said.

“This is a beautiful, beautiful spot,” Grinspoon, of Harold Grinspoon Foundation fame, said. “Am I a genius? Absolutely.”

Grinspoon was not the only one who appreciated the natural backdrop, though.

Just ask Ross Jolly – a Mount employee for 11 years, five of which he spent installing sculptures – why nature, which unfolds outwards from the mansion and groomed trails, is so important to the site.

“We crafted the perfect setting for sculpture,” Jolly said as he helped hold down a pipe Crane was sawing. “And it’s in keeping with Wharton’s philosophies. We just picked up on her cues.”

Jolly explained, as Crane cut, that sculpture offered The Mount a chance at revitalization. According to him, when the grounds were reformed and reworked during a period of economic strife, it – almost accidently – created the perfect canvas for art.

“It draws people’s eyes off the historic corridor,” Jolly said, standing in that very corridor, a compacted dirt road that leads to the on-site mansion. “It gives people a right to pause.”

For more information regarding SculptureNow, visit http://www.sculpturenow.org. More information and an event schedule for The Mount can be found online at http://www.edithwharton.org.

This article first ran in the Berkshire Record.

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