Question Shelter and Brave the Elements in the Sculpture Garden
Earth, wood, metal, water, fire – all core elements comprising modern shelter, and for the “Elements of Shelter” exhibit currently on display in the Sculpture Garden at the Vermont Arts Council, each has been forged into five towering structures, exquisitely rendered with stained glass, shaped metal, and giant timber frames. The exhibit bears witness to the twin crises of our time: climate and housing.
Together, artists Thea Alvin and Meg Reinhold conceived, designed, and developed the project in collaboration with faculty and staff from Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield. The duo began working in December 2022 sketching, painting, and translating their ideas into stained glass, each held by massive, nearly 14-foot, house-shaped frames which serve as gates or thresholds to walk under along the winding path in the Sculpture Garden.
“We wanted a design that was really strong and really energetic that held the energy of each of those elements,” said Reinhold, noting that the design borrows from the five-element theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
As in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the five elements reinforce the idea that everything is connected. Even the timber frames have five aspects to the structure that composes a roof line, walls, and floor, and each of the five stained glass pieces contain living features that extend beyond the glass to the frames. In the structure representing metal, for example, look for images of bees and hives made of metal. “We were thinking about colony collapse disorder and habitat loss in general, and heavy metals affecting the health of the bees. Everything is very interconnected and very fragile,” Alvin noted.
“We had talked about creating sheltered areas where people could congregate. But I think it is interesting that the shape that we ended up with does not in fact provide shelter, which is something that so many people struggle to find right now,” said Alvin.
Each of the stained glass pieces took Alvin one week to make, working around the clock, she underscored, and after which, Reinhold painted the frame holding the glass. The lines needed to meet perfectly with the glass in the center, on both sides, which proved to be quite a challenge, Reinhold said.
The exhibit also includes an intricate, long wooden bench of interlocking pieces and another design – sliced wood panels forming a ‘Y’ that hang from a tree – perhaps evoking the Y from Yestermorrow, both by Johno Landsman. Other faculty and staff that collaborated for the exhibit are Nick Pattis, Anna Fluri, Sophia Mickelson, Skip Dewhirst, and Ben Service.
Vermont Arts Council Sculpture Garden Curator Desmond Peeples said that by inviting Yestermorrow to exhibit in the garden, they hoped that it would help expand what it means to be an artist.
“I used to live in the Mad River Valley and would drive by the Yestermorrow campus on Route 100 thinking, ‘whoever those people are, they must be doing something awesome.’ I looked into their courses and, sure enough, they were looking at the world, and working it with their hands, in a way I hadn’t seen before. They erect the structures of living – houses, furniture, gardens, boats – and imbue them with heart and vision. They grab hold of the present with a reverence for both the past and the future,” Peeples said.
Even though I’ve always been more of a writer and performer than a craftsperson, I decided I had to, at some point or another, do something with this school. Years later the opportunity presented itself as I searched for the next partner for the Arts Council’s Sculpture Garden, a partner who would help us expand what it means to be an artist, and whose approach to sculpture would surprise and delight Vermonters. Yestermorrow was the first organization that came to mind.”
Peeples worked with Yestermorrow faculty member Anastasia Laurenzi who curated the exhibit. Laurenzi hopes the exhibit raises questions for visitors.
“We hope that participants walk through the installation, look around, look up and through, sit, lay down…and consider the materiality, the imagery, the feeling, the space, the light, and how privileged we are to have these elements of shelter in our own daily experience, and how fragile they are,” she explained. “A threshold is a place of in-between, of coming and going. A moment of pause, and then release. A place of questioning. A place of change. In constructing a place for reflection and learning (an educational experience), we are asking all of us to question where we are, how we got here, and by what means. We hope the periodic thresholds invite passersby to walk in and through and see their environment, and perhaps themselves, framed in a new way. We offer a place to sit, or lay, as refuge.”
“Elements of Shelter” will be on view through May 2025 in the garden at the Vermont Arts Council, 136 State Street in Montpelier, next to the Vermont Visitor Information Center.
For more information about the new Sculpture Garden exhibit, visit vermontartscouncil.org/sculpture-garden.
Check out our photo album of when the exhibit was being built.