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Artists help to build stonework collection at Augusta arboretum
David Sywalski
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Artists help to build stonework collection at Augusta arboretum

By Bob Keyes- Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The question was simple enough.

Mark DesMeules, director of the Viles Arboretum, wanted to know if stonemason Bill Royall could use his connections to get more outdoor sculptures placed at the arboretum, a 224-acre tract of fields and forest in Maine’s capital city.

A donor had given one of Royall’s pieces to the arboretum, and visitors seemed to love it. DesMeules wanted more.

Royall made a few calls, and six months later the arboretum had 20 or so stone sculptures scattered across its grounds.

This month, a dozen artists are adding to that collection. Tools in hand and ideas in mind, they are contributing to what they hope will become an annual Viles Arboretum Sculpture Symposium.

Through Sept. 21, they’ll carve, chip and saw away at heavy stone blocks and fashion expressive pieces of art that will be placed among the trees, gardens and rolling hills of Viles’ natural landscape. Visitors are encouraged to watch the artists work.

Admission is free.

This is the latest public sculpture symposium in Maine, following the Schoodic symposium in Down East Maine that ended Wednesday. Since its inception in 2007, Schoodic has resulted in more than 30 pieces of large-scale stonework placed across the region, from Ellsworth to Lubec.

This one is different. Whereas Schoodic involves international artists who apply to attend and are paid for their work, the Viles symposium features Maine artists, all of whom volunteer their time and talents.

Their work will be placed around the walking trails of the arboretum, and will be for sale.

The arboretum is many things – a network of hiking trails, winter sports destination, botanical garden – but its best use may be a place for public art, said Royall, who has been working in stone for 50 years.

“We see it as a sculpture center,” said Royall, 67, who is making a small abstract piece from quartzite taken from a quarry in Jefferson. “This is a beautiful place, and we want to add to it.”

In less than three years, since DesMeules asked Royall if he could arrange for more art, Viles has amassed what is believed to be the largest collection of public outdoor sculpture in Maine.

When this symposium ends, the Viles collection will number more than 30 pieces, all available for year-round public viewing.

The symposium brings attention to the collection, which features work by many of Maine’s best-know sculptors, including Jesse Salisbury, Andreas von Huene, Mark Herrington and Roy Patterson.

Von Huene is among the dozen artists participating in the symposium.

“The arboretum is building a tremendous collection of large-scale sculpture, and it’s fun to come out here and work in a group setting,” said von Huene, of Arrowsic.

He was carving a female figure from an asymmetrical piece of red granite, taken from Calais. The shape of the rock influenced his decision to carve a figure. She will face the wind, her hair billowing behind her.

A few yards away, Lise Becu was carving a 6-foot length of black granite that will include oak leaves and birds, two natural elements that she observed as she prepared her stone Friday morning. She is working under the shade of an oak tree.

“I really like the idea of a sculpture park in Maine,” said Becu, who lives in Tenants Harbor. “It’s an ideal location. The arboretum is beautiful. I love it here.”

Other artists participating in the symposium are Lance Carlezon, David Curry, Isabel Kelley, Paul Kozak, Hugh Lassen, Glenn Swanson and David Sywalski.

DesMeules, the arboretum’s executive director, said the sculpture initiative is part of the arboretum’s larger goal of improving Viles’ profile.

“We feel that Viles has been under the radar. It’s a hidden asset for the state of Maine,” he said.

“Art is the doorway to talking about the natural world.”

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