John Weidman, director of the Andres Art Institute in Brookline, sculpts at bronze symposium in Ohio

BROOKLINE – John Weidman, director of the Andres Art Institute, welcomed four visiting international sculptors during the early autumn symposium in Brookline.

He helped oversee their work, homestays, visits to the work site from the public, the permanent installment of their pieces, and the unveiling ceremony and reception. A few weeks later, the tables were turned and he had the opportunity to be the guest at the National Bronze Sculpture Symposium at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

“It was great to be at my old college,” said Weidman, who graduated from Antioch College prior to serving in the Army. “I didn’t go there to go back to anything; it’s all new. I was going forward through another level in my work and appreciated the energy I had received when I had gone there. I worked in the old art department, and didn’t have to answer the phone.”

Weidman was one of four sculptors invited to the symposium. He joined D’jean Jawrunner, of Tucumcari, N.M., Susan Byrnes, of Cincinnati, and Brian Maughan, of Yellow Springs. Each artist created clay molds for three small abstract pieces called maquettes, which are less than 16 inches high.

“Maquettes are small but of good design,” Weidman said. The pieces will be cast and installed in this year on a bronze sculpture trail for downtown Yellow Springs, the first of its kind in the area.

Bronze casting is an ancient art form, dating back thousands of years, but it is rarely seen in practice. Like most symposiums, the public was invited to observe the artists at work during the day and attend free lectures and presentations in the evening.

The culmination of the symposium was the pouring of molten bronze at sunset on the final day, supervised by sculptor and foundry chief Bernie Carreno, of Austin, Texas. Each artist got to witness one of their three pieces being cast, and the remainder will be cast in the spring. The organization will keep the molds created by the artists and will retain the copyrights.

“They wanted works that had not been done before and would not be done again,” Weidman explained. “It was a good experience, a chance to meet other artists, and study and explore new techniques with bronze casting, and to explore more than just your own work.”

One of the maquettes produced by Weidman is called “Skater.”

“It’s the gracious glide of a skater, with cautious concern,” he said. “We glide through life sometimes, and then we fall on our skates. It’s metaphoric and fun with the mind of the viewer.”

Another sculpture is called “Strolling Deity,” and he said it represents a being on a stroll, carrying her spirit. The piece features a keyhole shape, a recurring theme in his work, a symbolic unlocking of the viewer’s feelings.

“Our reference to form, shape, sound and words is influenced by our past,” he said. “People see things their own way, sometimes parallel with the artist, sometimes not, but to see someone integrating what they are seeing is a gift.”

The third piece he crafted at the Ohio symposium, “Passerine of Peace,” depicts a bird reaching up for food, and he said it symbolizes how, like the hungry bird, we are hungry for peace.

Early in his career, Weidman took anatomy classes, which included cadaver dissection, to study the human form and said he appreciates how that knowledge and experience has helped.

“Anatomy and dissection helped me do figures from the inside out,” he explained. “It’s important to learn. Even with abstract works, it is applicable. If you understand everything about a tree, you have a better understanding of how to express a tree. Same with a human form.”

He said he still enjoys studying science, and before using a new material, he feels compelled to learn all he can about the substance.

Prior to sculpting a piece, Weidman first does a drawing or a small-scale model. He also enjoys painting as its own art form.

“I always do drawings before I do anything,” he said. “Sometimes, the presentation can be elaborate through oils or pastels. I still enjoy painting, but I turned to sculpture because it is more physical.”

He sculpts in a variety of materials, including wood, stone, marble and metal. When asked what medium he prefers to sculpt in, he said it depends on the application of the structure and whether the finished work will be indoors or outdoors.

He has traveled around the world to study and sculpt, and has works installed in places as far-flung as Lithuania, Paris and Vietnam.

Weidman is well-known throughout southern New Hampshire for his sculptures and numerous contributions to the community. He and Paul Andres are the co-founders of the Andres Institute of Art, established on Big Bear Mountain in Brookline in 1998. According to the Andres website, the institute’s mission is to “serve and advance the intellectual and social well-being of the public by educating and training artists, by promoting the integration of art and technology, and by supporting fine arts.” The Bridges and Connections symposium has been held every year since 1999 under Weidman’s direction.

“Part of the impetus for conducting these (symposia) is to give back what I’ve learned through my career,” he said. “I have been very fortunate, and if I can help other artists, that is fine, that is the idea. And, of course, to have what we believe in advanced is important.”

Weidman is often the go-to guy when something old or historic needs to be restored. When the eagle atop the Oddfellows building on the Milford Oval needed repair, Weidman was commissioned to do the job.

“It was important that I did it in wood (because) the original was based on wood,” he explained. He switched from yellow pine, however, to red cedar so it would be more resilient. The original eagle sculpture is now housed indoors at Milford Town Hall.

Old wooden organ pipes were found under the building when the former United Methodist Church on Main Street was being renovated to house the Brookline library in 1993. The pipes likely date to 1859 when the church was built. Weidman and his wife, Nadiya, restored the pipes, which today hang in the library stairway as a testament to the prior use of the facility.

“I fixed them so they weren’t dangerous to put on display,” he said of the organ pipes. “I lecture (artists) on responsibility. Work has to be crafted well and produced well so it doesn’t fall apart or fall over. You can’t have people getting hurt.”

He also sculpted the eagle on the Korean-Vietnam War Veterans monument outside Brookline Town Hall.

Perhaps one of his most familiar works in the area is the “Monument to Memory” sculpture that sits in the center of the traffic rotary at the entrance to Rivier University on Main Street in Nashua. The 12-foot high bronze sculpture was created and installed in 2008 and also features a keyhole.

“This is a very spiritual work,” he said. “The center part represents the spirit people carry through the lumps and bumps of memory. It’s a visual reference that people are affected by experiences in their life. If everyone saw everything I did the same way, I’d be a rather dull artist.”

Since the work is towering, he said the keyhole helps soften it by bringing the eye back down. With its placement at the southern end of Main Street, he also sees the work as a symbolic gateway to the city.

There has been some controversy surrounding “Monument to Memory,” ranging from people describing it as a “clothespin” to discussion about relocating the piece.

“Clearly, I’d like it to stay,” he said. “I felt great they wanted to put it there in the first place since Rivier is (a Catholic school) based on spirit, but I’m not going to make a fuss and carry on. That isn’t going to help me any. It could coexist with the (traffic) signs. It is a powerful enough piece to contain itself where it is.”

Weidman is now getting ready for the annual spring sculpture symposium in Nashua and also lining up sculptors to come to the Andres Institute in the fall.

“When artists do something for the public, we see things based on our own experience and take possession of what we see,” Weidman said. “The gift an artist has to give to the present times is we record what we see and feel. It is therapeutic to get stuff out of us through our work. To see somebody interact with your work, in whatever form, is a gift from God.”

For more information about the National Bronze Sculpture Symposium, visit www.yellow-springs-experience.org. For more information on John Weidman, visit www.johnweidmansculptor.com or www.andresinstitute.org. Information on “Monument to Memory,” including photographs of its creation, can be found at www.andres institute.org/Nashuasymposium/Nashua