Steel beauties

Like metallic jewelry, sculptures accent downtown

Myles Schachter's newest sculpture is an artistic insurrection.

The monumental steel and cast iron piece, called "Digital Overload," towers above the sidewalk in front of the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H. One hundred eighty bits of binary code spill out of the center of a metal-doughnut form at its pinnacle.

"The idea is that someone turned on the spigot too strong and out come all the 1s and 0s pouring out of the system," says Schachter, a Lawrence sculptor. "There was a slight bit of irony in it because I used to own a computer business in Lawrence. This is sort of a rebellion, as is all my sculpture now -- a rebellion from technology. Now I use stone and steel, and I don't use keyboards and monitors."

Steel binds Schachter's offering to the seven other pieces chosen to inhabit downtown Lawrence for the next year in the 16th Annual Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition. Parks and Recreation crews last week installed the sculptures in high-traffic areas on New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont streets.

Exhibition juror Jan Schall, a curator at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., whittled a field of some 40 sculptures by 18 artists down to the final eight winners, who hail from Lawrence, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Texas and North Carolina.

Each artist received a $750 honorarium from the Lawrence Arts Commission, which sponsors the show with financial help from the city.

This is Schachter's first appearance in the show, one of the oldest outdoor sculpture exhibitions in the country, and a departure from his artistic MO. He typically works in the representational style and specializes in ancient Mayan and Chinese pieces in stone and bronze.

But, he says, he wanted an opportunity to practice his welding skills, and a friend had been complaining that her phone, computer and Internet service all were on the fritz.

Virtual Guided Tour
Live Guided Tour :: June 7
  • Lawrence Outdoor Downtown Sculpture Exhibition juror Jan Schall will lead a tour of the eight sculptures at 4 p.m. beginning at the Lawrence Arts CenterSchall is the Sanders Sosland Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo.

"She said, 'I have technology overload,'" Schachter recalls. "I was just sitting at home thinking technology overload, digital overload ... that's a sculpture right there."

Personal narratives

Personal experiences chiseled ideas into the minds of several other artists in the exhibit as well.

Chris Wubbena, an adjunct sculpture instructor at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, crafted "And you..." in response to the environmental degradation he saw taking place in the California hills, where he once lived.

"At the time, I was living in San Francisco, and I was looking around me, and I noticed, as you can't help but notice, that the hills were encased in houses and buildings and steel and concrete, and I used to imagine how they might have looked originally without all the houses," he says. "If you look at the piece, you'll see that there are these geometric shapes that are, in a way, imprisoning the rock-like form below. ... The city is destroying the rock."

The 5-foot tall form, on view at 11th and Massachusetts streets, is typical of most of Wubbena's work in that it uses rock and stone forms as metaphors for knowledge and memories.

Recollections also helped shape Texas sculptor Andrew Arvanetes' "Quest," a steel rocket form poised for launch just east of the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt. It's part of a group of rocket pieces he created for a show in the late '90s at the Chicago gallery that represents him.

"The fact that we were approaching the year 2000 was kind of stuck in my mind I guess for a long time," he says. "When I was a kid, I had seen the New York World's Fair during the early '60s. ... There were all kinds of images in displays and dioramas about how our future's going to be, with living on the moon and moon bases and travel to Mars and all this kind of thing."

Tom Newport's experience doing pyrotechnic work with a group in Cedar Rapids inspired "Falling Stars." The spiraling, polished stainless steel form sits on a cylindrical base at Ninth and Massachusetts streets.

"When it picks up the surrounding light, it kind of reminded me of the shapes that drift down after a fireworks show goes off," said Newport, a sculptor and jewelry designer who works in Cedar Rapids.

Material relationships

Carl Billingsley's "Fulcrum of the Sun" is a more process-driven piece. The slender, chisel-like form by Billingsley, head of the sculpture department at East Carolina University, stands across from City Hall at Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

"I'm very much a maker of objects. To use a really old term, I like for the sculptures to exhibit something called truth to materials. In other words, I really like for people to be able to see what the sculpture is made of, what it's like," he says.

The shape of "Fulcrum of the Sun" reminds Billingsley of a particular kind of chisel used by wood turners. He equated the revolving wood with the rotary motion of the planets and remembered a famous Archimedes saying: "Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough, and I will move the earth." But levers need fulcrums.

"I kind of imagined the sun coming up somewhere with this sculpture there and mentally kind of inserting some kind of long rod under the edge," Billingsley says. "It's a kind of absurd vision in a way, but it's the relationship that I was making in my mind between certain shapes and certain facts about being alive."

Relationships between shapes are paramount in Nebraska sculptor Donald Dynneson's "Ferrosphere #5." He constructed the 42-inch-diameter sphere, on view just east of the library, by welding together dozens of odd metal parts, many from agricultural equipment, to form a sphere he describes as "perfect."

"I'm conscious of the pieces and their history," he says. "Each piece has reason for being. It was originally designed for some utilitarian purpose. I'm conscious of that and have a regard for the serendipity that happens when neighbor parts that aren't meant to be next to each other start to interact. It starts to suggest different levels of metaphor."

Towers of meaning

Retired high school art teacher Donald Horstman's "Mystic Tower" moves from metaphor to mysticism, using a tower of symbol-encrusted river rocks encased in a steel I-beam structure.

"The symbolism is sort of the passing of time, the mysticness of the ages past in conjunction with the steel of modern buildings and the symbolism of the symbols," said Horstman, a Fenton, Mo., artist whose sculpture is on display on the corner of Eighth and Massachusetts streets. "The symbols are just made up, but people can make what they want out of them. Actually, they're taken from all cultures. It's sort of like a tower of what people have thought over the time."

Another tower form, "Field Conductor" by Cedar Falls sculptor Bounnak Thammavong, concentrates on a narrower slice of history: Thammavong's own heritage. The steel cylinder is based on the shape of a corn silo and sits at the corner of Seventh and Massachusetts streets.

"The basic idea behind it is to create a monument to my heritage. My family grew up on a rice field, and when they came to the United States -- we emigrated from Laos -- we were looking for a place to settle that had the same kind of agrarian society to it," he says. "So this is really a piece for my father. He really likes corn, even though he grew up among rice. He thinks the corn stalks are really beautiful."

Thammavong sanded the moon phases into the surface of the middle section.

"My father has told me that during his time on the rice plantation, they always watched the moon to make sure they were harvesting at the right times," he says. "It kind of recollects his knowledge of how the moon phases dictate the fields."

Public art

Though the sculptures all incorporate similar materials, the concepts and constructions are vastly different.

Marlene Merrill, exhibition chairwoman, said she didn't envy the juror's task of narrowing the applicant field.

"It's a nice representation of several different styles," she says. "This is art that ordinary citizens can look at, and they may see different things than the artist was trying to portray, but it brings art and an appreciation for art into their lives. I think it's a wonderful contribution."


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