Scrap Wrenn

Artist Scrap Wrenn and her partner, Jo, arrived at the farm in time for a late dinner on Tuesday in a U-Haul truck from upstate New York. I was introduced to Scrap at Zen Mountain Monastery, where I am known by my Buddhist name, Shinji. I wrote to her shortly after our introduction,

            Hi Scrap,
We have an outdoor sculpture exhibit at the farm every fall . . . I know you are about to move into the monastery, but just thought I’d ask if you had a piece you might install here.
You can see the prior year’s work at oldfrogpondfarm.com under the tab for art.

Loved your stormy Instagram post!
               Shinji

Scrap posts on Instagram almost every day. Some posts become images she includes in large photographic collages of people and place—magnificent landscapes with hundreds of photographic moments in which we immerse ourselves and journey through. Scrap’s visual language is quick-moving and incantatory. It is like listening to a medieval chant where the polyphony of different voices weaves a tapestry of individual melodies as well as harmonizing together. We engage with the leaps and turnings as questions about the nature of reality and meanings seep into our consciousness. She recently installed an exhibit of these photo collages at the John Davis Gallery in Hudson, New York. 

 John Davis Gallery, Hudson, New York, (Scrap Wrenn far left)

John Davis Gallery, Hudson, New York, (Scrap Wrenn far left)

Scrap is also a sculptor. Inside the large U-haul truck were four identical heavy metal objects, fabricated initially for an installation on Randall’s Island, New York City. On Scrap’s website she explains  Awakening Asylum was designed to commemorate both the General Slocum Steamship disaster (June 15, 1904) and Randall’s Island, an “Asylum” in the past for inebriates and the mentally ill.  

The location of the sculpture commemorated the ship’s Hell Gate waterway passage where it is thought that the steamship fire likely began. Due to faulty unregulated flotation devices and poor crew response times, over a thousand people perished in the Northern East River on their way to a Lutheran picnic excursion on the sound in Queens.

   Awakening Asylum  , Scrap Wrenn 

Awakening Asylum, Scrap Wrenn 

This installation has castings of flotation devices, wood beams suggestive of the old ship, and a collage in the center of the spiraling metal: it is complex and multi-layered. Scrap would be bringing to the farm only the fabricated metal now in four pieces. Sculptors often take apart old sculpture and reuse its materials. I like to re-purpose parts from sculptures in storage, drawn to pieces that I may not have finished my conversation with. Scrap had sent me photos of these four large elements early on. They made me think 'wings' or 'fins'. Though I had no idea what she would do with them, I trusted in the integrity of her artistic vision.

 Scrap (left) and Jo.

Scrap (left) and Jo.

On Wednesday morning, Scrap and Jo unloaded the U-Haul, loaded Blase's pick-up, and we drove around the pond to their site. That’s where I left them—with a digging bar and shovels, on a hot day. They worked till the Japanese bells sounded for lunch. Dirty, hot, and with two ‘wings’ installed, they went back to work with Holly Ciganiewicz, one of our farmers, and completed the installation just before five o’clock, when we planned to take a swim in Bear Hill Pond.

The working title is Ground Space. These four forms, dug deep into the earth, each rise like a whale’s dorsal fin and transform the space. When you walk among them, around them, or stand in the center, a curious energy also rises and surrounds you, as if walking in a biosphere. But I won’t say anymore. You have to experience it for yourself. Scrap Wrenn is one of the thirty-seven artists whose work will be on exhibit at the farm for our annual outdoor sculpture walk.

Around the Pond and through the Woods opens on Friday, September 7 and will be open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, 11—5 pm through October 7. If those times don't work for you, we can make other arrangements for your visit. For information about the exhibit and other fall events at the farm check out our website. I’m excited to share this year’s exhibit with you.

Creative Connect

Sheets of rain slice across the pond, while our thirty-eight resident Canada geese poke at their feathers or calmly stare. Human wellbeing often depends on being dry, out of the rain, but in those moments when I enjoy the geese, I also enjoy getting wet.

You might call such a moment being alive, but as an artist I call it being creative. For by creativity I mean the potential to connect with the world outside oneself, whether near to home—the geese in the rain, a field of wildflowers, or far from home—the terror of immigrant children separated from their parents.  

When I experience long periods without this creative energy rising, I don’t feel connected. I fall into an abyss of my own mind, a morass of thinking about myself. Creativity makes me feel connected to the world. We all share this experience; it is inherently human.

The opposite is also true. We can be in the most beautiful place and not appreciate it; we block the beauty from entering our marrow. We can be in the most loving relationship and not allow the love to enter. When we don’t connect, we don't belong. Caught in the rain, we fear our clothing is getting wet or ruined, and we make it a problem. We hurry, frown, hunch up, forget the larger picture.

This longing to be connected with a big 220 amp plug drives my art. Even when I am grieving or burdened, when the world appears deeply troubled and dysfunctional, I try to keep this connective amperage flowing. For I know life will continue to change like wood to ash or leaves to compost, and human creativity is recognizing and living with these transitions and using them. A friend sent me a link to an article about an artist's painting exhibit. The artist, Kelly Thorndike, is an Iraqi vet who was stationed at the horrific Abu Ghraib prison when a bomb went off. In the second before shrapnel hit and seriously wounded him, Thorndike saw a nearby inmate blown to pieces. It’s worth a read. Creative work can help us process events and feelings we store in our minds.

A few nights ago, I was finishing a new sculpture, a mandala of sorts, with a great hollow tree in the center, and small meditating figures surrounding it.

 Sculpture in process leaning on the wall.

Sculpture in process leaning on the wall.

I think the outer work is complete, but I have one part yet to finish. The Buddhas are sitting on wooden dowels, bobbins from an old textile mill in Lowell.

 Sculpture detail, LH

Sculpture detail, LH

They are hollow. I want to place a word, a prayer, a meditation for the world inside each of these wooden tubes. I cut up a watercolor and wrote single words on each one—compassion, wisdom, suffering .  .  .  but then didn’t feel this was exactly right. As I was putting tools away, I noticed a bag of leftover National Geographic maps from making the sculpture, The Teapot Explorer.

I pulled out one, ‘Peoples of the Mideast’, a map of Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan, with pictures of all the different ethnic groups from these areas—Bedouin, Qashqai, Armenian, Turk, Lur, Kurd among others. In one corner of the map there is a box describing the ethno-linguistic groups titled, An Awesome Human Mosaic. I thought of adding the names of indigenous people inside each bobbin in recognition of the depth of so much human diversity.

 Copyright 1972 National Geographic Society

Copyright 1972 National Geographic Society

Then I opened a second map, ‘Great Migrations’, depicting eighteen migration patterns around the globe—birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans, micro-organisms, and fish. I traced the Monarch’s multi-generational migration of 4000 miles. I followed the equally miraculous journey of the Loggerhead turtle 9000 miles from beginning to end, back to the very beach where it was born. Each of these creatures as unique as the indigenous people I admire.

I left the studio filled with awe.

Early the next morning on my way to the studio, I stopped to visit the geese. Some of the them were on the dam wetting their feet, others stood in the lawn alongside it. I appreciated  so much life right outside the door. Then I continued to my studio determined to write this blog. I’m not sure the blog is quite finished, and I don’t know how or when I will finish the sculpture, but as I look up from my page, startled at the sound of flapping wings, I see the geese practicing. It's flying-lesson time for the young.  

Which Way?

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.

   We All Speak the Same Language  , Wendy Wolf

We All Speak the Same Language, Wendy Wolf

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  , LH, installed at Old Frog Pond Farm

The Way of Peace, LH, installed at Old Frog Pond Farm

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.

   The Way of Peace  , Lawrence, MA

The Way of Peace, Lawrence, MA

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.

Signs White.jpg

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.

 Hannah and her dog, George, were so excited to see the sculpture being installed they asked me to take a photo and send it to them.

Hannah and her dog, George, were so excited to see the sculpture being installed they asked me to take a photo and send it to them.

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.

   Swarm,   Joe Wright

Swarm, Joe Wright

   Soaring High  , Janet Kawada

Soaring High, Janet Kawada

   Qwgkak of the Upper Falls  , Anne Eder        Photo:  Anne Eder

Qwgkak of the Upper Falls, Anne Eder       Photo: Anne Eder

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.