As artworks at Natural Bridge State Park wither, DCR seeks to find their creators

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NORTH ADAMS — It looks like more local youth-created art is about to become part of the past.

After 15 years of harsh Berkshire winters, the concrete on the sculptures at Natural Bridge State Park is starting to give way to the freezing and cracking process. A few of the pieces, some of which are quite large and stand 7 feet or taller, are in danger of falling or dropping chunks of concrete, which could endanger anyone standing nearby.

Because of that potential danger, officials from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation are preparing to remove the pieces and discard them. But first, they are reaching out to the public to see if the original artists want to make arrangements to keep their work.

The sculptures were created in 2004, when a Guardian Project involving a group called UNITY, affiliated with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, enlisted several local youths to create nine statues using concrete as the base material and a variety of colorful elements to add texture to the pieces.

Local youths were paid $500 each to come up with their creations. One of them was Christopher Winslow, a 13-year-old who was in trouble with the law. But when he got involved with the Guardian Project with the encouragement of his parole officer, it was his turning point.

"I learned that you don't have to be an idiot your whole life, and it saved me from trouble, helped me to believe in myself," he told The Eagle.

His creation was an angel, which he dedicated to his sister.

The works that the artists came up with were interesting and somewhat ethereal. Indeed, they still are. They add a unique charm to a nature alcove at Natural Bridge State Park where the pieces were installed.

But it's time for them to go.

"The primary reason is that they are deteriorating and some are dangerous," said Dom Sacco, Western Region director for the DCR. "But we wanted to reach out to the artists to see if they wanted to keep their work. We certainly didn't want to just discard them without at least trying."

He said the plan is to remove them sometime around Columbus Day, which falls Oct. 14. If an artist wants to retrieve a piece, Sacco said, park officials would work with them to make the arrangements and help in the removal process.

Sacco noted that some of the rebar is exposed, and there are cracks and pieces of concrete that already have fallen, and more that are likely to.

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Once the removal is complete, he said, that area would become a nature gathering spot, with maybe a gazebo or information kiosk.

"I really appreciate DCR calling to let us know," said Amber Besaw, executive director of the NBCC. "They're wanting to do this in the best way possible."

Artwork that previously graced the pillars of the overpass near the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art were removed by museum officials, and some residents still are upset about it. The public murals were painted over in 2017, and the director of the museum, Joseph Thompson, later expressed regret over how the situation was handled.

Besaw said the sculpture exhibit at Natural Bridge State Park has been well-received over the years.

"It has been displayed quite wonderfully for the last 15 years, and if people haven't seen it, they could still come up and see how cool it is before it's gone," Besaw said. "It's important to note that it is an art installation, and something like that is going to last for a limited time."

Winslow, now an executive chef based in the Northampton area, said he enjoyed the experience and made some friends as a result, but he was not happy with the final outcome of his angel.

"I was not very proud of the outcome — it was a difficult medium to work in," he said.

He added that he doesn't want to retrieve it.

"I have no place to keep it, and I have pictures of it," he said. "That's good enough."

As for the program that resulted in the artwork, he said that was a good program and had the desired effect.

"It would be cool to see that happen with more local kids," Winslow said.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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