NORTH BENNINGTON, VT. — Through the ages, classic sculpture, whether a Greek or Roman marble, or a Far East depiction of Buddha, tends to follow a familiar visual aesthetic with which most lovers of art, as well as the lay public, are familiar.
Enter sculpture with an edge to it, and leave behind any notions gained from classic renditions of that medium.
In North Bennington, Vt., artist Joe Chirchirillo is conducting his annual labor of love: organizing and curating the 19th annual North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show, known locally by its initials, NBOSS.
Chirchirillo, now in his fourth year as NBOSS curator, will also have a piece in the exhibition. He said preparations have reached a fever pitch for the show, opening this Saturday. The NBOSS will run through Oct. 23.
"You'll see some heavy movers and other large equipment out here as we get ready for opening on [July] 23rd," Chirchirillo said. "This year, we'll have 38 pieces spread over five locations."
Several works will be sited at the North Bennington Sculpture Park, 48 Main St., next to the post office. Also, sculptures can be viewed at the North Bennington Train Depot, and at three other locations on Main Street.
The NBOSS started when a local mason, Joe McGovern, asked Willard Boepple, a local sculptor, to install works on open land in town. Boepple, then a sculpture professor at Bennington College, also brought his students in.
While those early years were ones of locally based whimsy and experimentation, today, works for the NBOSS are increasingly coming from outside the area, as the show has steadily gained regional and national attention.
This year, for example, one of the sculptures displayed, "One Piece at a Time," will be from Patrick Camut, an artist in Charleroi, Pa., just south of Pittsburgh.
Camut, who works as an art teacher in his local schools, said he is attracted to working in steel because of the rich history of steel manufacturing in western Pennsylvania.
"This sculpture is inspired by the Johnny Cash song where a GM factory worker borrows a few car parts from the assembly line to build a free Cadillac, hopefully without getting fired," Camut said. "I wanted to devise a plan to build a sculpture using T-joints. My intent as a sculptor is to give the viewer the ability to see T-joints frozen in time as they travel into the scrap bucket."
Another sculptor with a piece in the show is Mariam Shah. Shah said that while she resides in North Bennington, she came to Vermont from her home country of Pakistan to attend Bennington College.
In Pakistan, Shah said she mostly painted, but through her education became inspired to work in other media.
"The piece I'm making for NBOSS is a giant, 8-by-8 foot wall on which I'm using reflective tape to create lines that will result in an optical illusion," Shah said from her studio. "The work is fueled by questions of place, immigration, identity, loss and tradition as I transition to a new life in the U.S."
Shah added that through her art she finds herself "debating ideas surrounding the illusion of protection and safety versus the reality of barriers and limitations."
Also nearby in North Bennington, Kristin Blaker considered her entry to the NBOSS. Blaker said she creates monumental botanical sculptures, which explore the relationship between people and their food.
"The humongous, realistic vegetables engage the audience, demanding attention, while inspiring laughter as the viewer connects to their environment, their food, and themselves," Blaker said. "As an art educator and mother of three, I am constantly inspired by children's natural ability to view the world with a sense of wonder and enchantment."
Blaker explained this nonjudgmental way of seeing as "our true nature, not only as children but also as adults." As such, she said her work is meant to inspire a "natural sense of childlike wonder and curiosity" for the viewer.
Her current piece, "Fine and Dandy" explores the undervalued dandelion, a surprisingly healthful plant with many traditional medicinal uses. Blaker said it's a plant often overlooked and "consistently threatened and attacked, all while being an important and beneficial part of our ecosystem."
Given the diversity of approaches from participating artists, Chirchirillo concluded that the experience of sculpture is visceral, even when function doesn't always follow form. The goal of such art, he said, is to draw out a very human response.
"We live in a world that is increasingly becoming two-dimensional," Chirchirillo said. "So much of our information comes from photographs, videos, and other such media. As a sculptor I'm hoping [we] connect with viewers on a primal level."
IF YOU GO ...
What: 19th annual North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show
When: July 23 through Oct. 23. Opening party from 4 to 8 p.m., Saturday.
Where: Sculptures in five outdoor locations around North Bennington, Vt., village. Opening party at the NB Outdoor Sculpture Park on the front lawn of the Vermont Arts Exchange, 48 Main St., North Bennington.
Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist