Artists leave their mark at Institute

Thursday, October 7, 2010



It began with a topsy-turvy drive through the pumpkin patches and apple orchards of peak Hillsborough harvest. Getting lost amidst the foliage, I drove 20 miles out of my way before arriving at the mountain sculpture menagerie that is among Brookline’s best-kept secrets.

I was on my way to the 12th annual Bridges and Connections International Sculpture Symposium at the Andres Art Institute. Every year sculptors from different parts of the earth – from Ukraine and the Czech Republic to Chile and India – are invited to Brookline to ply their craft at the institute. This year’s event was called “A Place for Change.”

Gerard Motondi, from Kisii, Kenya, was the creator of the first sculpture to be unveiled.

He began by singing a Kenyan folk song to an applauding audience.

“Today we are talking about a place for change, that is the symposium theme for this year. … I look at life, and see life is full of contrasts, it’s full of changes, we have day, we have night, that is change. …Then I asked myself, ‘What is life?’ Life is the soul that is in you.”

“Change can come naturally. Change can come artificially. Change can be induced. And that’s all change.

“So the mother and the baby is what I brought up as the idea. I artistically stylized that the mother has to come down and embrace the child, and the child moves up to embrace the mother, and they are both going to be brought next to the mother’s heart, and that is the soul.”

As Motondi said these words, an assistant whipped the canvas from the large statue.

“I call this one, Souls of Peace!” Motondi said.

Motondi has sculpted in Turkey, China and Russia, in addition to a large piece at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, a gift to the American for having helped broker a peace deal in 2008.

Walking on to the next sculpture, Allen Leach, 65, a machinist from Derry, flipped through photos on his iPhone. They detailed five visits to the institute in which he had documented the work of the guest sculptors.

“They’re from everywhere. They’re from Kenya, Iran, one from the United States and one from India. … It’s amazing to meet people. We end up being just like a family.”

Upon completion of the work, Leach said he presented each of the artists with a CD containing the photos he’d taken.

Next the audience was presented “House of Wish” by Iranian sculptor Esfandyar Moradpour.

“I am looking for the light in the darkness,” were the words he chose to close the description of his piece.

“In the time I’ve been here I’ve learned so much about humanity,” Moradpour said. “This sculpture is like a window. In it I see your pure heart, and I just want you to see the same.”

Like all the sculptures, “House of Wish” was carved of a tremendous slab of granite. It contained a square, which inspired the children to peek through.

Asked of the significance of the shapes in his piece, a square within a circle, Moradpour spoke through an interpreter.

“Every house has a window. In some houses there are no doors and they use the window to enter and exit. I’ve lived like this. It calls a person to work and to work for good.”

On to the next unveiling, I crossed paths with Paul Andres, the owner of Brookline’s Big Bear Mountain. Andres purchased the property, which had belonged to a man who committed suicide, in 1996. Andres, an engineer by trade, was inspired by his love for art to dot the mountainside with sculptures, beginning with those of Brookline sculptor John M. Weidman.

“I’m one of those people who believe there are better ways to leave your mark on the planet than genetics and children,” Andres said with a smile.

Weidman recommended that they establish a 501(c)3, and thus was born the Andres Institute of Art.

Andres insisted on the importance of the necessity of community involvement in upholding the institute.

“It’s like raising a child. At some point the child has to stand up on its own, and that’s where the community comes in.”

The third sculpture was that of Bangalore artist Gopinath Subbanna, called “Inherent Conversation.”

“This sculpture basically it’s divided into two sections: one, the semicircle you are seeing, it represents the arts, and it also represents the womb,” Subbanna said. “The center part, you’ll be seeing a small bronze piece there, which represents the egg, and a symbol of life.”

“People can come from any part of the world, they can be from anywhere, but they come here and they become one. This is a kind of interactive sculpture. You become part of the sculpture.”

“I’ve been to quite a couple of camps, symposiums, and workshops,” Subbanna said in thick South Indian English. “Wherever I’ve gone, it’s like always we stay in a five star or three star hotel, and we’d go work in the studio, and go back to the hotel. But it’s been a very unique experience here for me. … It was quite mechanical there. I could never see the real world. But here I could see so many people. Every day I get lunch from different people. They would come with such a beautiful smile and I can never forget that.”

Walking to the last piece, I caught up with Darrell Philpot, Brooklyn native, Brookline resident, who had provided housing for Gerard Motondi during his three-week stay. In that time Philpot had taken his new friend for Mexican food, and Motondi had taught the family some Swahili.

“It’s amazing how much life is just life,” Philpot said, referring to the commonalities between the sculptor and himself.

A local host family home was chosen for each of the four artists, giving them the opportunity to learn something of the local culture, and for the hosts to learn from the artists.

New York City’s Susan Abraham was the last artist to unveil her piece, “Nearly Naked.”

“I’ve never carved granite before,” she said. “I have over 30 years of carving marble and other stones, but this was my first granite experience and it was great.”

“The sculpture is comprised of two simple and sensual complimentary forms, surrounded in the center by folds of stone, where one form enters one part and emerges from the other.”

“I’ve never had a community that’s touched me in such a deeply personal way,” Abrahams said, choking back tears. “This is a magical place. I hope to return again and again.”

Finally, I spoke with Keith Trexler, the president of the Andres Art Institute.

Trexler stressed that the institute is in need of grants, donations and endowments.

“If it wasn’t for the generous support of Paul Andres, our benefactor, we couldn’t exist at all. … I wish that more people in our government understood how important art is, and how much it makes a culture worth protecting.”

Trexler explained the significance of pouring a vessel of water onto each of the sculptures.

“It’s just a symbolic reference of watering a plant, and providing love and nurturing for a plant so that it grows. We have a small quarry here at the base of the mountain so I got some water for that. … We use that water to consecrate the sculptures as they’re dedicated to the mountain and accepted into the collection.”

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