On a trip to Montana a couple of weeks ago, hiking through a forested area, I stumbled upon what was for me a brand-new way to think about newspapers:
As the raw material for artwork.
A few miles east of Lincoln, a town of 1,000 people in the shadow of the Continental Divide, the community has banded together to create a sculpture garden.
You don’t typically think about Lincoln, where my parents live, as a site for world-class sculpture. (The town likely is best-known as the place where the Unabomber lived in a shack a few miles south of town.)
But galvanized by a vision from Irish artist Kevin O’Dwyer, who also is the guiding hand behind a 50-acre sculpture park on an old peat-harvesting site in Ireland, Lincoln raised more than $100,000 – and contributed much more than that in volunteer labor and services – to lure five internationally known sculptors to the project.
Part of the idea is that the sculpture park, dubbed “Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild,” will become a potent tourist attraction. (It’s an idea that might be worth considering for the mid-valley.)
When I saw it, the work was not yet finished – but all five sculptures in this first wave were provocative and beautiful.
And then, from a distance, I saw New York artist’s Steven Siegel’s “Hill and Valley.” From my first viewpoint, it looked as if layers of rock were being confined by walls made from the area’s ubiquitous pine.
I was wrong: A closer examination showed that what looked like rocks were, in fact, thousands and thousands of newspapers stacked atop each other and held in place by massive nails.
As it turns out, Siegel – who works with a variety of media – has been working with newspapers for outdoor sculptures for decades, including a sculpture that was on display in Portland for a time.
In an email to me, Siegel wrote: “It is a testament to the people of Lincoln that on a volunteer basis they were able to build with me the largest paper piece I ever have done. I had told the organizers that they would get whatever the community wanted, and the community really came through.”
Although his newsprint sculptures obviously are exposed to and affected by the elements, they have proven to be surprisingly durable and strong. The Portland sculpture – which eventually was removed by the city – was strong enough that children could climb on it.
“Hill and Valley” – the paper rises like a hill and the pines are trimmed like a valley – draws inspiration from the surrounding landscape, and Siegel said he has long been inspired by Western landscapes. “Over the years I have walked in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, California, Washington, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Arizona,” he wrote. “In my late 20s, an appreciation of the landscapes I was walking on morphed into an interest in their development – geology and deep time. With the addition of that fourth dimension, I began to see things in a new light.”
Viewing the first five sculptures in the Blackfoot Pathways garden provided a vivid example of how art allows us to see things in a different light. I’ll be visiting the garden each time I travel back to Montana – and each time, I’ll wonder what a similar project might look like in the mid-valley. (mm)
Mike McInally is the editor of the Democrat-Herald. He can be reached at 541-812-6097 or firstname.lastname@example.org