Open Air Gallery Invites New Level of Enjoyment

by June Pichel Cook

CRAFTSBURY – The Highland Center for the Arts (HCA) Open Air Gallery Ski and Snowshoe Trail traverses about a mile and a half with outdoor sculptures, some whimsical, others kinetic, and some thought-provoking. The trail is easy to cover, with multiple loops allowing one to circle back to the main parking lot without covering the entire distance.

photo by June Pichel Cook | A metal giraffe created by sculptor Harlan Mack is one of the 20-some sculptures along the Highland Center for the Arts Open Air Gallery Ski and Snowshoe Trail.

Twelve artists are represented, including the HCA Scene Shop crew, which created a colorful festival of flags to brighten the winter landscape. The trail loops through the HCA’s open fields, creating a magical natural backdrop with its undulations of snow-covered ground and sculptural minimalism of bare trees under blue skies.

Harlan Mack’s “Giraffe,” “Granilla” and “Bear Suit” are ingenious creations of repurposed metal, bicycle parts and chains. The gracefulness of the giraffe is caught with a life-like sense of being; it is uncanny to think of this tropical animal pictured against a skyscape of blue and snow-covered ground.

A fun piece is his amazing “Bear Suit” with its free-flowing form and suitcase of bicycle gears. The bear’s ears are bicycle pedals, and the sculpture is an intricately woven mesh of handlebars, chains, and gears.

The “Wonderland Wickets” by the HCA Scene Shop crew, is a light, airy looping of yellow and red arched hoops through which one walks with a sense of fun. The contrast between Brian Gluck’s “Cedar Arch” and “Wonderland Wickets” is interesting in the different feeling each emanates. “Cedar Arch” gives one a sense of awe at the natural beauty of the bent cedar trees forming a functioning archway. One is reminded of the ancient art of Japanese wood bending.

Thomas Douglas’ “Aloft” is a graceful piece, with its bright silver sheen heightened under the winter sun. The streamlined form appears to have momentarily alighted on its pedestal but at any moment could steal away quietly up into the sky.  Equally intriguing is Christopher Curtis’s “Where Do We Come From? Why Are We Here? Where Are We Going?” The sculpture has a tombstone sense in its starkness of metal and granite.

His “Gnomon II” is a gold flame within a wooden pedestal. Gnomon means literally, “one that knows or examines,” and refers to that part of a sundial which gives one a sense of orientation. It feels as if it were an extension of his earlier piece on the trail.

Kinetic sculptures are always mesmerizing as they are caught in the vagaries of wind currents and by themselves invite a sense of whimsicalness and chance.

Judith Wrend’s “Cloud Hands” drifts with the slightest of  wind and her “Say Something Nice” could be a Joan Miró painting replicated in three dimensions. The lightest of wind propels the red and blue extended laterals with their ball-like endings ever so slightly. It is the unpredictability of kinetic art that makes it engrossing. 

The HCA’s orange “Clothesline” ripples in the wind with a familiarity in the same vein as the “Blue Bonfire” of painted sticks. Both the clothesline and bonfire are easily relatable and reassuring to the viewer because of their immediate connection and understanding. They are as they are named and pretend to be nothing other.

Trying to explicate Bread & Puppet Peter Schumann’s Lamentation Road and Domestic Resurrection Services “Bedsheets” is quite different. His works become visible representations of a creative mind jettisoning a thousand sparks to light up one’s imagination. Schumann’s interpretations run the gamut from death, darkness, and despair to the hopefulness of brighter, collective potentialities. His black and white domestic resurrection bed sheets reveal a thousand different dramas in a conglomerate of images. One’s eye moves around each bedsheet rippling in the wind with its ink-stained images telling a story and allowing the viewer to explore each image in myriad ways.

“Thinking means sinking to your knees in front of the task at hand,” Schumann tells us. His bordered wall of barbed wire, fire, women in a row, yet trees and flowers growing, always hold that sense of hope despite the inhumanities we project. Not unlike Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” despite the mayhem and death, a tiny flower is sprouting up somewhere.

One must keep a careful eye to enjoy The Red Ossier Farm Art Collective’s Flying Farm “Folk Figures” and Cindy Blakeslee’s “#182.”

Look carefully when making the trek because the delight of the little woodland sculptures are as intricate as the larger prominent pieces along the trail.