At Stockbridge's Berkshire Botanical Garden art moves in the air


STOCKBRIDGE -- A rabbit nibbles at the lawn a few feet from a leaping fox. The fox is made of metal and swings in the wind. The rabbit is alive and unconcerned.

In the pond, a wading heron lifts a foot from the water, and fish jump. They are metal too -- weather vanes moving gently among the frogs and water plants (and at least one good-sized turtle) at the Berkshire Botanical Garden.

This summer, the garden has opened "Windswept," an exhibit of contemporary wind sculpture and antiques that drift on the air.

Brian Cruey, communications manager at the Berkshire Botanical Garden, has co-curated the exhibit in a group effort.

To find the weather vanes and antique metal flags, Cruey has worked with Greg and Natalie Randall, antiques dealers and owners of R.T. Facts in the old town hall in Kent, Conn. Cruey and his colleagues have also set up wind chimes hanging on a crab apple tree like bright catkins. And they have gathered work from half a dozen artists, many of them local.

He drove to Pennsylvania to collect Jeff Kahn's giant "Wind Shear," a kinetic sculpture like a silver wind mill.

"It moves even when you don't think there's a breeze," Cruey said. "And it looks like it's always been here."

Cruey picked up the sculpture at Kahn's house in the woods, where he has a workshop in the barn and fields full of sculpture around it. Kahn's is the most dramatic piece in the show, Cruey said.

"Art has to find the right spot," he said. "You want to compliment the gardens and not to distract from them. [Most of the works] don't stand out. You have to look for them. They surprise you."

William Cummings' works look like part of the landscape until they spin at a touch. Cummings makes sculpture out of New England's most plentiful crop: rocks. Held with metal piping, his field stones balance lightly enough to swing.

"I want to take something you think is stationery and put it into motion," he said. "I'm envisioning something with tonnage, and a 4-year-old touches it and it moves, it balances so well. You can make something weightless as long as you get the balance points in place."

Some of his sculpture has needed a stone drill, but increasingly he has simply used gravity and balance. Cummings has built many stone walls in his time. He worked as a stone mason for 20 years and as a landscaper for 10. His artwork has grown naturally.

"I'm a transplant from Plymouth," he said.

He worked with the Duxbury Art Complex and the North River Arts Society there. Becket, his hometown now, reminds him of Plymouth as it was in his childhood, he said, open and beautiful. He came to the garden as a seasonal gardener, and at the end of the summer he will take over as buildings and grounds manager when Will Maston retires after 17 years. In the meantime, Cummings enjoys his stonework.

"It's fun," he said. "I look like a mad scientist in the shop, bending metal, moving rocks, tweaking and twisting."

Down the path from the balance rocks, in "Memorialized in White," Suzanne Heilman has weatherproofed clothing and underclothing to hang on a clothesline.

"She described it as immortalizing things you find in an attic trunk," Cruey said.

He finds it playful and buoyant.

"Wind can go a lot of different ways," he said, "violent, noisy, gentle. It happens naturally. One moment something's dancing on the wind, and then the wind is blowing you over."

Heilman's night shirts and trousers jig in the breeze, while artwork nearby snakes or flashes or arcs when the wind rises.

Tim Prentice, a well-known Connecticut artist, has designed "Yellow Zinger," a serpentine of lemon-colored panels ripping between pine trees.

When the wind blows strongly, the panels snake all the way down, Cruey said.

He worked to get this piece for the show. He had seen a Prentice sculpture last summer in a Berkshire garden at the Botanical Garden's annual Fête des Fleurs, held at a private home, and he had known then that he wanted to see a work like it here.

Prentice's apprentice and engineer, Richard Griggs, has also contributed a piece, "Garden Sequins." He had them mounted on the side of his barn, Cruey said, before he contributed them to this show.

The disks flash in the light when a current shifts them.

If you go ...

What: 'Windswept' exhibit at the Berkshire Botanical Garden

Where: Routes 102 and 183, Stockbridge

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

Tours 10 a.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays

Admission: $15 for adults, $14 for seniors, $12 for students and free for children under 12

Information: (413) 298-3926


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