Sculpture as Poetry in the Maine Landscape
“For the last 19 years,” says June LaCombe, Maine’s one-woman outdoor sculpture campaign, “I have been trying to get sculpture out of the white box of the gallery and back into people’s lives where it belongs.”
June LaCombe is not just an art dealer; she is an art believer. She curates exhibitions of outdoor sculpture wherever and whenever possible. This summer her two major shows are Water and Gravity at her Hawk Ridge Farm in Pownal, Maine, and Wind and Light, an exhibition of kinetic sculpture by Ipswich, Massachusetts, artist George Sherwood at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine. The farm exhibition demonstrates the breadth of LaCombe”s three-dimensional interests, while the garden show displays the depth of George Sherwood’s elegant engagement with the elements.
Hawk Ridge Farm is a shady, secluded, soulful little landscape at the end of a dirt road in rural Pownal, about 25 minutes from Portland. The farmhouse nestles in the trees. Dogs bark a welcome. Horses graze in the paddock next to the barn. And the lawns, gardens, and meadows surrounding the farm are thoughtfully punctuated with metal, stone, and ceramic works of art placed there in order to evoke what June LaCombe calls “the poetics of place.”
“It’s about helping people find sanctuary in their own homes and personalizing their places,” explains LaCombe.
Water and Gravity: A Celebration of Sculpture in Situ features close to 120 pieces of sculpture both on the grounds and within the farmhouse gallery. The majority of the sculptures fulfill the title theme simply by virtue of their physicality and weight, but some also function as fountains and rainwater vessels. The work ranges from garden statuary to serious art, from abstractions such as Stephen Porter’s polished steel “Southern Bend” and Charlie Hewitt’s patina-ed steel “Copper Saw” to representations such as Cabot Lyford’s little granite “Landscape” (a female nude as mountain range) and Wendy Klemperer’s weathered steel “Gericroix,” a rearing, life-size horse welded out of rebar.
Close to the house, small granite fountains by Jordan Smith add the element of motion and sound to Water and Gravity and ceramicist Paul Heroux’s serene, soda-fired stoneware bowl fills with rainwater. The pieces I found most intriguing were those that functioned at a conceptual level. Cat Schwenk, for instance, creates Earth Books of bronze and of cast cement, placing her open “books’ in nature such that whatever should fall upon them — water, light, leaves, insects, etc — becomes their text. I was also intrigued by Gary Haven Smith’s granite carving “Fluere” (Latin for “to flow”), which appeared in all its simultaneous formal simplicity and technical complexity to be a stone peeling.
George Sherwood’s Wind and Light show at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens features 10 of Sherwood’s stainless steel natural abstractions displayed around the botanical garden’s 248-acre site, each piece glinting in the sun and silently turning whenever the slightest breeze hits it. Sherwood has degrees in both art and engineering, and his dual expertise shows in the formal beauty of his creations and in the seemingly effortless way with which they dance in the wind.
The rise of site-specific art and installations makes outdoor sculpture such as that of Water and Gravity and Wind and Light seem somewhat conservative as contemporary art goes, but as meditative objects and markers in cultivated landscapes these works definitely accomplish June LaCombe’s mission of bringing art into everyday life and poetry into nature.
Water and Gravity, Hawk Ridge Farm, Minot Road, Pownal ME, May 20 to July 20, 207-688-4468. Wind and Light, Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, Boothbay ME, June 11 to August 15, 207-633-4333.