Middlebury

Dedication of Vermont artist Michael Singer's "Garden of the Seasons" follows new library dedication

October 12, 2004

Middlebury, Vt.-"Garden of the Seasons," the creation of Vermont sculptor Michael Singer, was dedicated on site Friday, Oct. 8, during the festivities marking the dedication of the new Middlebury College library, which is located on Storrs Avenue between Routes 30 and 125. Occupying a space of approximately 30 feet in diameter, the garden is located on the south lawn of the library building. Earlier Friday at the library dedication, Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz also announced the next commissioned project of the College's Committee on Art in Public Places-a three-part mural by American artist Matt Mullican that will span 84 feet of the entrance atrium of the new library building. Titled "L'art d'ecrire" ("The Art of Writing"), the mural will be installed in the building in honor of its architect Charles Gwathmey.

Articulated both on the ground and above it, the "Garden of the Seasons'" space is defined by granite benches that form a semi-circular enclosure and also a stepped wall that runs parallel to the sidewalk between the building and Storrs Avenue.   

From afar the garden can be seen by its signature planting screen, a 6 by 14 foot rectangle made of mesh, aluminum, painted steel, stainless steel cable, and copper piping that rises above the ground. In warmer months the screen will carry a variety of deciduous vines and foliage that will change color with the seasons. In winter months it will support a wall of ice. The circular seating area of the garden encloses a "floor" made of cast aluminum and concrete with textured copper that harbors various indigenous plantings-mosses, flowers and ferns. The water that will maintain the garden in the temperate seasons is furnished by a designated retention pool that holds run-off storm water. A swale of rocks and plantings extends from this pool, forming an arc around the garden that ends at the road at the perimeter of the library lawn. The entire area within this arc will be planted with tall grasses and wild flowers. In the temperate seasons the water will run naturally; during the winter months a pump buried in the construction will deliver water in upward pulses where it will freeze on the planting screen.

Preparations for "Garden of the Seasons" commenced in the summer of 2003 when the grading of the site was determined and water and electrical lines for the campus quadrangle were established.  Planting and above ground construction have been in progress over the past four months, with the artist and his staff supervising the work of masons, gardeners, electricians and plumbers. 

Michael Singer, who has been a resident of Vermont since 1971, is an internationally known sculptor who has redefined the practice of art and broadened its applicability to a surprisingly wide range of publicly funded and publicly maintained spaces. In addition to commissions for private residences, he has completed award-winning site-specific sculptural environments comprised of natural and man-made materials for airports, office complexes, college campuses, civic waste management facilities, waterfront recreational areas, and public parks. A graduate of Cornell University, he has been awarded fellowships and grants from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts. In 1996 he received the Vermont State Governor's Award for the Arts from then Gov. Howard Dean.

Singer was awarded the commission for the library garden at Middlebury following a competition in 2002-2003, which was sponsored by the campus Committee on Art in Public Places (CAPP). An exhibition of three proposals was on view at the College museum in spring 2003.  Since 1996 the Middlebury College board of trustees has maintained a program that earmarks one percent of construction costs of its building projects for the creation and maintenance of works of art. The library's "Garden of the Seasons" is the first to employ an artist early in the planning and design phase of construction, permitting a project specific to its intended site. Other CAPP projects include the 1996 "Two-Way Mirror Curved Hedge Zig-Zag Labyrinth" by Dan Graham, in the plaza of the Center for the Arts on Route 30, and "Smog" by Tony Smith on the campus side of McCardell Bicentennial Hall. 

Already a destination as well as a retreat for pedestrians and casual visitors to campus, "Garden of the Seasons," according to Middlebury College Museum of Art Associate Director Emmie Donadio, was conceived as a designated spot for study, contemplation and refreshment of the senses. From the western and southern windows of the library one can enjoy a birds-eye view of the project. Even those who see the garden only from afar-in passing vehicles, for example-can enjoy its conjunction of nature and culture. Donadio expressed the hope that, as its plantings mature and the seasons follow their courses, the "Garden of the Seasons" will affect and offer respite and pleasure to generations of Middlebury students, staff and passersby.

The commission for the mural that will span the library entrance atrium was awarded to Mullican by a jury comprised of members of the National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts in New York and Middlebury College representatives. The project was spearheaded by the committee of the Edwin Austin Abbey Memorial Fund for Mural Painting in America at the National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts. Additional funding from the Glenstone Foundation made it possible to realize the project in the new Middlebury library.

For further information contact Emmie Donadio, associate director and chief curator of the Middlebury College Museum of Art, at 802-443-2240 or donadio@middlebury.edu, or Richard Saunders, director of the museum and chair of the Committee on Art in Public Places at Middlebury College, at 802-443-5235 or rsaunder@middlebury.edu. 

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