Garden of the Seasons, 2003–2004
Granite, cast concrete, painted steel, aluminum, and plantings. Purchase of the Committee on Art in Public Places with funds provided by the Middlebury College Board of Trustees One Percent for Art Policy. 2004.048
Location: Adjacent to the library
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 Governor Howard Dean.
Singer was awarded the commission for a library garden at Middlebury following a competition in 2002–2003, which was sponsored by CAPP. An exhibition of three proposals was on view at the college Museum in spring 2003.
A popular destination as well as a seductive retreat for pedestrians and casual visitors to campus, Garden of the Seasons 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 alluring conjunction of nature and culture. As its plantings mature and the seasons follow their courses, Garden of the Seasons is designed to affect and offer respite and pleasure to generations of Middlebury students, staff and passersby.
(Photo: Tad Merrick)
Occupying a space of approximately 30 feet in diameter, Garden of the Seasons is located to the south of the library building. Articulated both on the ground and above it, the garden 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 six by fourteen foot rectangle made of mesh, aluminum, painted steel, stainless steel cable, and copper piping that rises above the ground. In warmer months the screen carries a variety of deciduous vines and foliage, which change color with the seasons. In winter months it supports 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.
(Photo: Tad Merrick)
The water that maintains 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 is planted with tall grasses and wild flowers. In the temperate seasons the water runs naturally; during the winter months a pump buried in the construction delivers water in upward pulses where it freezes on the planting screen.
7000 Eichen (7000 Oaks), 1982–1987/1998
Basalt marker and red oak tree. Tree and basalt stone planted by the Middlebury College Museum of Art in memory of the artist Joseph Beuys. 1998.003
Location: Lawn between Starr Hall and Starr Axxin
A meditative artist, political activist, and influential teacher, Joseph Beuys termed much of his work “social sculpture,” by which he meant to suggest his utopian belief that art had more than an aesthetic function.
For Beuys, the ever-changing proportional relationship between the young tree and the inanimate stone marker illustrated the permanent state of flux in which all organisms exist. His selection of basalt, a form of hardened, volcanic lava, alludes to both volatility and duration, linked aspects of time that inform all of his works. The tree and marker from this ambitious project link Middlebury to the larger global community: in contemplating this site the viewer is connected with a network of other viewers contemplating similar installations in numerous places on the planet.
(Photo: Tad Merrick)
Solid State Change, 2007
Discarded tires and electrical insulation. Purchase of the Committee on Art in Public Places with funds provided by the Middlebury College Board of Trustees One Percent for Art Policy. 2007.023
Location: Hillcrest Environmental Center
Solid State Change, inspired by the geology and topography of Vermont, alludes formally to the metamorphic bedrock beneath Middlebury itself. The artist conceived the sculpture in relation to the exterior curved wall of Hillcrest, the newly renovated and expanded home of the College’s Program in Environmental Studies. Established in 1965, this interdisciplinary program—the first such undergraduate major in the United States—combines course work in geology, geography, economics, political science, biology, chemistry, physics, religion, and philosophy.
Recognizing the multi-faceted approach to learning in Hillcrest, and seeking to juxtapose a broad range of references, Fisher created an artwork from discarded—and hence recycled—materials. Working from the ground up, she assembled strata of rubber tires intermixed with colorful strips of plastic insulation that were once used to sheathe copper wire. Composed of materials that are not biodegradable and not accepted at most landfill sites, the 6000-pound structure incorporates the processes and products of industrial activity, yet it appears to have emerged naturally from the earth.
Frisbee Dog, 1989
Bronze, 68 x 28 x 36 inches. Gift of Gary Merrill. 1989
Location: On the quad in front of Munroe Hall
The practice of throwing a disc in an athletic contest can be dated to the first Olympics in 776 B.C., but we can be sure that heavy piece of metal was not easy to catch. Patrick Villiers Farrow’s Frisbee Dog commemorates the evolution of an ancient sport into the game of we know today.
Five Middlebury alumni claim to have thrown the first Frisbee, a discarded pie tin from the then-popular Frisbie Pie Company, while changing a flat tire in the fall of 1939. There are several counter-versions of the game’s invention. One advanced by three Yale Law School students was apparently confirmed by Mrs. Frisbie herself; Webster’s New World Dictionary confusingly asserts that “Mother Frisbie’s cookie jars were originally used for the game by Princeton students.”
We may never know who threw the first Frisbee pie tin, but we can be sure that Farrow drew his inspiration from the Middlebury students who continue to throw Frisbees on the lawn in front of the McCullough Student Center.
(Photo: Tad Merrick)
Two Open Rectangles, Excentric, Variation VI, 1976
Stainless steel, 12 x 3 feet. Purchase with funds provided by the Friends of Art Acquisition Fund and a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. 1977.002
Location: In front of Johnson Memorial Building
George Rickey’s kinetic sculptures do not use mechanical devices of any kind to create movement. Inspired by Alexander Calder’s mobiles, Rickey arranged the spare and geometric elements of his sculptures so that they are free to move with the surrounding air currents. These create random patterns of movement within tightly controlled perameters.
Two Open Rectangles, Excentric, Variation VI keeps the viewer in a state of constant suspense. The sculpture creates the impression that the two rectangles interpenetrate, even though they do not, and that they will collide, even though they cannot. Rickey’s work is neither gestural nor anthropomorphic. His interest lay in the moving object itself and the sculpture’s articulation of its environment.
King Kong, 1973
Cor-ten steel, 5 feet x 9 feet 4 inches x 8 feet 5 inches. Gift of Sophia Healy. 1994.003
Location: In front of Johnson Memorial Building
Jules Olitski is better known as a painter, but he also created a significant body of large-scale sculpture. An active participant in the Color Field Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, he poured and sponged large areas of modulated colors onto the canvas. He also painted the surfaces of his first sculptures. In 1973 he began to use Cor-ten steel, giving his sculptural surfaces a monochromatic sheen that matched the voluptuousness of his earlier paintings.
King Kong consists of two circular, concentric rings, the smaller one contained and partially hidden within the larger. Olitski altered the outer ring by cutting into and puncturing its surface, leaving behind negative imprints that vary in size from quite large to almost invisible. These openings partially reveal the inner ring and suggest narrative or symbolic meaning. Four crude gashes into the upper, bounding periphery allow the sculpture to be read as a primitive crown, as well as work of art that has suffered major damage caused by the attack of a gigantic simian, the mythic King Kong.
Bench and Table, 1988–1989
Cincinnati red granite, Bench: 87 x 18 x 19 inches; Table: 28 x 22 inches. Purchase of the Committee on Art in Public Places with funds provided by the Middlebury College Board of Trustees One Percent for Art Policy. 2001.002
Location: Ross Commons Courtyard
Acclaimed for transforming the idea of public art, Scott Burton made functional sculptures that require a spectator’s presence to complete their purpose. Like conventional chairs and tables, Burton’s Bench and Table is designed not only for touch, but also use. Although originally intended to be subversive and challenge received notions about how art functions in relation to its audience, his minimal forms now seem familiar, even artful.
(Photo: Tad Merrick)
Burton was committed to making public art throughout his career, even though his first works were decidedly anti-establishment. Performances on New York City’s streets during the late 1960s evolved into “furniture tableaux” using chairs as surrogates for human forms. Not until 1977, however, did his unique synthesis of sculpture and furniture appear in New York galleries.
In the 1980s Burton adapted Minimalist forms to the needs of the corporate boardroom and public plaza. Although Bench and Table was not designed specifically for Middlebury College, both its form and function speak to the need for rest and repose, contemplation and conversation, amidst the bustling activity of a collegiate environment. While the title Bench and Table emphasizes the utilitarian properties of the sculpture, the minimal forms of the crescent bench and circular table are essentially poetic. Each component echoes the other’s shape and completes its form, just as the work requires a human presence to complete its function.
Smog, 1969–1970, fabricated 2000
7 x 80 x 60 feet
Purchase of the Committee on Art in Public Places with funds provided by the Middlebury College Board of Trustees One Percent for Art Policy. 2000.013
Location: East lawn of McCardell Bicentennial Hall
Smog is the largest and most complex work by Tony Smith ever constructed. The artist was an exact contemporary of the Abstract Expressionist generation, but his art, unlike theirs, was never based on controlled accidents. He was trained as an architect and was well versed in mathematics and modular systems; his sculptures evolved over time from simple to increasingly complex geometric forms.
Smith died before Smog and other of his complex sculptures were fabricated in permanent materials. The sculpture is composed of octahedrons that create a lattice of positive and negative spaces. The cool metallic beauty and rhythm of its complex forms seem to have come into being by efflorescence, possessing both the logic of crystals and the passion of living forms.
Hieroglyphics for the Ear, 1997
Slate and steel, five stands, each 44 1/2 x 14 x 2 1/4 inches. Purchase of the Committee on Art in Public Places with funds provided by the Middlebury College Board of Trustees One Percent for Art Policy. 2001.003
Location: Along the path between Atwater dining hall and 275 Weybridge Street
The practice of letter cutting has played a large role in society and art throughout history, and is an activity that ties our modern civilization to its ancestral roots. Employing the same essential techniques that have spanned the centuries, London-based letter cutter Kate Owen incorporates the power of language with the permanence of stone carving, so that expressive words are grounded in firm substance.
Hieroglyphics for the Ear is a series of five slates, each with an onomatopoeic word carved on either side. Both the title and the inscriptions of the piece are taken from a Georg Christoph Licthenberg aphorism that declares, “words…which express sounds, are more than mere symbols; They are a kind of Hieroglyphics for the ear.” The inscribed words demand a twofold viewing experience: beyond the response that their literal meanings elicit, they exact a consideration of the aesthetic quality of their layout, letterform, and textural presence on the stone.
Hieroglyphics for the Ear is installed in a natural setting, on the pathway linking the Atwater Dining Hall with Nichols House, the residence of the Atwater Commons Faculty Heads.