Wednesday, August 18, 2010

WALKABOUT: Stone Art at the Dog River in Montpelier

By Theodore A. Hoppe

People have been building with stones and rocks probably since the beginning of recorded time, stacking them and fashioning them into buildings, monuments, and sculpture. There are endless examples: Stonehenge, the Pyramids, the Easter Island Moai. Frank Lloyd Wright is credited with the philosophy of "organic architecture," the central principle of which maintains that the building should develop out of its natural surroundings. It would follow that art should be organic as well: use the material in the natural surroundings. Vermont has no shortage of stone and rocks, and so it makes sense that people would find creative ways to make use of them, including using them in art.

Rock sculpture is an organic art form, and is Vermont's equivalent of sand castles at the beach. Lots of folks try their hand at it to while away the time on a summer day, but few turn it into an art form the way Bob Harris, of Montpelier has. Harris works in the evenings performing culinary art, which allows him to spend his daytime at the river creating a garden of sculpture with a Buddhist sensibility. Rock sculptures are about balance and centering and styles can vary. Some people stack them up, others seek ways to counter-balance them on end in seemingly precarious ways. Bob Harris's style is a blend of both, and can incorporate drift wood and tree roots carried downstream.

Since Harris's rock sculptures are all constructed in the river bed, he knows that at some point the waters will rise, and the river's force will carry the stones to a new resting place. There is also the chance that someone could come along and just knock them all down, which sometimes happens. Luckily, most people respect the effort Harris puts into his work. Indeed, many have trekked to the spot along the Dog River, which one person referred to as "Bobtown" just to take pictures of the towering pieces. With the notoriety Harris is receiving, he's been taking his art a little more seriously. He's been commissioned to create some sculptures for a garden and is creating a portfolio of his creations.