hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture June 2021


A season of sculpture

From the Berkshires to Vermont, outdoor shows return and expand



The artist Peter Gerakaris has created a series of Byzantine-style paintings of owls. This spring, he has been working the mosaic artist Stephen Miotto to scale up one of his images for an outdoor installation at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. Courtesy photo


Contributing writer


Glass tiles gleam like stone under water. They reflect light in wide eyes: Two owls look out of a mosaic in a stucco wall that seems to ease into the land around it like a ruin, with plants growing in the crannies and at its feet.

Interdisciplinary artist Peter Gerakaris is learning a new medium as he prepares work for “Taking Flight,” an outdoor exhibition that opens June 11 with works by five sculptors throughout the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge.

Outdoor sculpture is growing across the region this summer, as pandemic restrictions begin to ease and museums reach out to people eager for safe ways to come outside and find color and creativity. New collaborations and expansions are emerging.

In Vermont, the North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show partners with Bennington Museum, and Salem Art Works comes to the Southern Vermont Arts Center. These shows gather more than 100 works between them, said Jamie Franklin, curator at the Bennington Museum.
In the Berkshires, public art is growing far beyond the ongoing work at Art Omi in Ghent, N.Y., and Turn Park in West Stockbridge.

The Clark Art Institute has a whimsical exhibit of Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalannes’ bronze sculptures, and SculptureNow returns June 1 to The Mount in Lenox. In early July, Chesterwood prepares to open a new summer show, “Tipping the Balance: Contemporary Sculpture by John Van Alstine,” and “Enchantment” fills the grounds at the Norman Rockwell Museum with dragons and sylvan gods and goddesses to accompany an indoor exhibit of fantasy and magic.

Art amid gardens
At the Berkshire Botanical Garden, the art collector Beth Rudin DeWoody is gathering a unique flock of birds. She suggested the idea in response to the garden’s theme of flight this summer, and she said she has reached out to artists she knows well. In addition to Gerakaris, the show includes works by Concha Martínez Barreto, Tracey Emin, Rachel Owens, Ian Swordy and Immi Storrs.

Storrs casts her work in bronze, often textured like bone or clay and marked with her fingerprints.
Gerakaris often works in origami and paint -- media that would not hold up well outdoors. To make his first move into sculpture, he is working with one of the top mosaic artists in the country, Stephen Miotto, and his Miotto Mosaic Art Studios in Carmel, N.Y., and in the Friuli region of Italy.
Together they are scaling up one of Gerakaris’ paintings. It feels like a dream, Gerakaris said, to see his work come together in a new form and to have it here in the vivid outdoor setting of the garden. He remembers coming to the botanical garden as a boy, when he was growing up in New Hampshire.


The owls he will bring to the garden come from a series of his paintings in the style of Byzantine icons, figures set on a rich golden background. But where the Byzantines would have set a saint or Madonna in the light and place of power, here he sets birds, insects, orchids. And they are all endangered. They are threatened for many reasons -- forest fires, development, loss of the forests where they live.

Gerakaris said he finds something sacred and spiritual and meditative in the processes of making them. Byzantine art has refined over the centuries, and the technologies he uses are almost as endangered as the species he honors: gilding, preparing a wooden panel with rabbit skin glue and a sacred red ochre that will receive the leaf with a luminosity that reflects back through the gold.

Mosaic is also a Byzantine tradition. Gerakaris said he thinks of the walls of Hagia Sophia that have survived centuries and changes of government. He has seen many mosaics in Italy studying abroad and on his ancestral island of Crete, and he said having the chance to work in this historic form is humbling.

He is also continually amazed as he watches Miotto translate the nuances of paint into these chips of stone. He breaks the tiles into fragments, cut and chipped out of a pancake of colored glass.

The tiles are luminous, Gerakaris said, often with color behind a glaze layer of glass and translucent in the light at different times of day.

They talked about gold tile for the background. But in shade, an opaque tile would have no light to reflect. So they will intersperse gold tesserae with stone and glass in yellow tones to make an illusion of a golden wall that will look brighter than real gold.

Gerakaris imagines the work in the beauty of the garden, around the corner from the bright color of the daylily walk, with awed wonder and a sense of play.


Growing out of a pandemic
In Vermont, the North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show will flow onto the grounds of the Bennington Museum for the second year in a row, beginning July 3.

The museum’s staff had been thinking and talking about sculpture on the grounds for several years, Franklin said, and he has long known Joe Chirchirillo, the North Bennington show’s curator and director for nearly a decade.

Last year, when the pandemic hit and the museum closed for part of the summer, Franklin and Chirchirillo brought the sculpture show’s artists to the grounds for an extension of the annual outdoor show.

This summer, with more time to plan, Franklin has also reached out to sculptors across Vermont.
They will have sculpture on the lawn and up the hill to the trails along Jennings Brook, he said. The museum has a wildflower trail and 10 acres of land.

They begin close to home. where Matthew Perry’s sculpture of a young man, dedicated to Trayvon Martin, stands in the courtyard, speaking to national debates.

Mary Admasian from Brattleboro shapes “Weighted Tears” from aluminum rods, wire and barbed wire, recalling for Franklin the mourning everyone has gone through in the past year. Each one holds a light always glowing.

“Red Oculist,” an oval space surrounded by all-weather material, is something like a tent but open to the sky. People can look upward and inward and reflect on this last intense year, Franklin said, and record thoughts and ideas about what they have gone through -- on an old-fashioned cassette tape player.

Outdoor sculpture shows have become more and more popular, Franklin said, and artists find innovative ways to make sculpture from materials near at hand that can stand up to the weather. Traditional metal and stone can be heavy, expensive and hard to move. He sees sculptors today working as often in natural wood, welded steel, cast cement, found metal or wood or scrap, or elements foraged in the woods.

More than one artist in this year’s show will work with and for the earth.
Near a 19th-century dam, Erica Smith Miller considers water flowing free and contained.
Bill Botzow, a Pownal-based artist known for his work in natural landscapes, will create new work with grape vines and buckthorn he harvests from the Vermont woods. He is planning a kind of memorial, Franklin said, to rest near the pathway between the museum and the cemetery that holds Robert Frost’s grave.

The museum has opened the Robert Frost exhibit originally planned for last summer, and Franklin said he expects the trail to his grave will be well traveled this summer.


Creations in an everyday world
The North Bennington sculpture show, which opens June 19, is expanding in more than one direction in its 24th year. This summer it has a new satellite, in Hiland Hall Garden in North Bennington, as it returns on the lawn of the Vermont Arts Exchange and through the village, at the old train station, Lake Paran and Bennington College.

Chirchirillo has built a network of artists across the years, and it is steadily expanding. He says he has 42 involved this year, and a third are artists new to the show. They come from a radius of more than 200 miles, from the New York metro area to Rhode Island.

Lee Williams evolves environmental sculpture in wooded stretch on the Bennington College campus. Jose Criollo will form a giant turtle from welded steel. Brooklyn artist Max Yawney builds large installations on site, often broad structures ringing a central object like a sacred circle.
Perry, the Vermont Arts Exchange co-founder and director, sees Chirchirillo bringing back artists who have not joined the show in years.

Bennington has a long history of well-known artists living and visiting here, Chirchirillo said. The sculpture show began years ago with students at Bennington College, and it has kept that informal feeling.

“The idea of sculpture and public art are woven into the community,” he said.
Perry suggested the annual show helps to give the Bennington area a special relationship with art – one in which people see the products of imagination tangibly around them.
“It lives with us,” Perry said. “Kids here grow up with it.”

The sculptures in and around town are open to anyone, anytime from dawn to dusk.
“I believe in public art,” Chirchirillo said. “I ask people to open their minds to it, not to be afraid of it, … try to learn what people have in mind when they are making it.

“If I come into a community and see public art, I feel different about that town than I would without it, because I feel as though this community is trying to be more inclusive -- of everything,” he added. ‘We’re trying to open doors and build community, and it’s the most important thing you can do right now.”