Studios without Walls, the group of artists that organizes an annual outdoor sculpture exhibit along the Muddy River in Brookline, has expanded to a new location—the Newton Upper Falls Greenway. This exhibit of Beyond Boundaries, organized by the talented artist, Wendy Wolf, fills an old railroad bed trail through Newton Highlands with fifteen installations.
My sculpture for the Newton Greenway, Which Way?, has had several lives. In the late 1990s, the sculpture, then titled The Way of Signs, was on the Boston Common, before being moved to Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton for a season. It was a signpost with signs pointing in every direction—The Way of Peace, The Way of Doubt, The Way of Jealousy, The Way of Love. When this piece found its way home again, I dismantled it and put it in storage. In March of 2003, I remade it for a women's peace vigil at Old Frog Pond Farm. I repainted its old signs with the names of countries—Iraq, Iran, Syria, Brazil, India, Pakistan, the United States, Bosnia, Somalia. A group of seventy-five women gathered at the farm on the evening of March 7 to protest sending troops to Iraq. With light from home-made torches, we walked over the snow from our bonfire near the farmhouse, down the hill, across the stone bridge, and out to a point where the sculpture glowed from the torchlight and lit the white snow. No boundaries, no barbed wire fences, no gun-protected borders: simply directions to parts of the world where we wanted to send our love. (I can't find the Boston Globe photo but here is one I took when I installed it.)
The Way of Peace had a sojourn a few years later in the town of Lawrence, along a canal. A group of anarchists adopted it and hung some of their own signs and a small plastic flying pig.
Since this incarnation, the base and the wooden post have been gathering dust, while the signs were painted over becoming street signs pointing the way to pick-your-own raspberries and organic apples at Old Frog Pond Farm.
For the call for art for the Upper Newton Greenway, I decided to resurrect the sculpture. Though our world aches for peace, I decided to return to the sculpture’s original incarnation with new signs pointing to emotions and desires that we can all relate to—The Way of Joy, The Way of Jealousy, The Way of Generosity, The Way of Money, The Way of Fame, The Way of Water.
Looking around the farm for wood to make the signs from, I decided to use some unusual boards I have been harboring for many years, unsure of how or if I wanted to use them. They are thin and long, of varying sizes, with rounded oval ends. Trappers used them for drying pelts. They would stretch the animal inside out, pulling it over and down, and pinning it to the boards. Then they could scrape away the innards and leave the skin to dry. I painted the dirty, somewhat oily wood, a clean white.
I asked Julia Tricca, one of our farmers, if she wanted to help. I know she is a good artist. I explained that I wanted a mix of colors and graphics for each sign. She was immediately drawn into the project, and made interesting lettering and designs for several signs. I loved what she did and turned the project over. For the next few weeks she would leave us in the fields or berry patches and go into the studio to work on the signs.
To complete Which Way?, I placed a round of wood sliced from the trunk of tree with a hollow center, anthropomorphizing the sculpture with a “head.” The signs became her arms, like the Chinese goddess Kwan Yin, known in Japanese as Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva with many eyes and arms who sees all the cries of the world and has enough arms to offer help in all directions. Last week, Mike LaBonte, another part-time farmworker helped me install the sculpture in Newton. (If you work at the farm, it is likely you will be pulled into an art project.)
When we finished installing, Mike left. I was sitting in the pick-up truck I’d borrowed from my husband, Blase, looking at Which Way? through the windshield when a large group of people appeared. I watched their surprise and delight, then got out of the truck and introduced myself. They had gathered because a fire alarm had gone off in their office building. I explained my sculpture was part of an exhibit that would be installed over the weekend. A young man said he thought Which Way? was wonderful and I asked, “Why?” He replied after considering, “Because it humanizes the area.” That’s the joy of public art! It’s a surprise gift. We do speak the same language.
The troops marched into Iraq despite our peace vigil—as a country we still follow The Way of War. But we do have choices individually. We can try many directions and see where they lead. We can make good choices.
The exhibit will be up all summer. If you are in the area, stop by! You can enter the trail through the parking lot for the Boston Ballet School in the TJ Max mall at 153 Needham Street, Newton Highlands or pull into one of the parking spots at Pettee Square at 94 Oak Street, Newton Upper Falls. Here are a few photos of the other installations to entice you.
The other artists are: Stacy Piwinski, Maria Ritz, Gregory Steinsieck, Gail Jerauld Bos, Freeedom Baird, Madeleine Lord, Betty Ann Libby, Myrna Balk, and Louise Farrell. For information: Studio Without Walls.