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Art, nature converging on trail

SUN STAFF
Stephanie Shapiro
Published on October 8, 2001
© 2001- The Baltimore Sun

Peer from a footbridge over Dead Run along the Gwynns Falls trail in West Baltimore, and you'll find mysterious white lines rippling from rocks. The ripples aren't water, and yet they imitate water, and broadcast its vibrancy, even when seemingly still. Coming upon the whirling lines is like coming upon a crop circle, or an enigmatic ancient ruin.

Brooke Sturtevant, a recent graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, created these ripples with a little trickery and a lot of sensitivity to the fluid environment she worked in. As a kid, she fairly lived in the woods behind her Harford County home, and as a student in an environmental sculpture class, her interests in nature and art converged with a certainty unusual in someone so young. Not only has Sturtevant created her own work for the trail, she curated an entire art exhibit for the first "Art on the Gwynns Falls Trail." Called "Whisper the Wind," the show includes nearly 20 pieces by MICA students, graduates and others along a one-mile stretch of the urban greenway. Running through Sunday, the project, which includes art workshops and a jazz concert, is the first in a continuing collaboration between the Gwynns Falls Trail Council and the institute's newly formed department of environmental design.

"Gwynns Falls is terrific. We make good partners," says Katie O'Meara, the department's chair, who initially approached the council about working together. With Annet Couwenberg of the fiber department, O'Meara teaches the environmental site art class where most "Whisper the Wind" pieces were conceived. It is her goal to enable students participating in this and other projects to make the transition from theory to application by creating the pieces they design. To do so, they must have the technical skills as well as the know-how to apply for grants and other qualifications for creating public and private art.

In the site design field, building professional skills is as crucial as building a piece to scale in a specific environment, whether it is a rural trail or an office lobby, O'Meara says. Ten students enrolled in O'Meara and Couwenberg's environmental design class this semester immediately set to work on projects for "Whisper the Wind." As evidenced by their contributions, they've risen to the occasion, O'Meara says.

The pieces emerge - often surprisingly - along the trail, and speak to their surroundings. Eric Dyer's tree harp resembles a caterpillar, through which tightly coiled wires pass from one tree to another. Next to the piece he has written, "Play me!" When plucked, the strings emit a kind of earth music, not necessarily tuned to the Western scales we're accustomed to.

For Spinning Tree, Andrew Peter Mezensky has tightly wrapped multiple lengths of rope around the base of a tree and pinned the thick hemp cords to the ground with hand-forged springs and stakes. While on the trail recently, Mezensky says he sought to create a double illusion of "implied movement." He wanted observers to ask themselves if the ropes looked as if they were restraining the tree or forcing it to spin out of its bark.

Nearby is Water Elevation, a construction of lovely, artificial lily pads created by Greg Thompson and Nathaniel Baugher from plywood and orange vinyl tablecloths. Water flows from one pad to the next until reaching the Gwynns Falls below.

Up the trail is Gina Diliberti's improbable piece Braided Grass Ascending to the Treetop from Path Below. Using fishing line as a guide wire, Diliberti coaxed a long chain of braided grass to the far top of a tree. "I hope that my pieces can be related to by the kid in everyone who can take joy in looking up at the clouds, climbing trees and playing in the woods," the sculpture studies major says in her artist's statement.

For members of the Gwynns Falls Trail Council, the exhibit is an intriguing way to call attention to the trail, now about 4 miles long.

"We are looking for things to enhance the trail that will get people to come out and explore this largely unknown treasure of Baltimore," says council member Bill Eberhart, who has escorted visitors on art walks along the trail.

Heide Grundmann, another council member, is enchanted with the way the art reveals itself. Referring to Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, a piece by Karisa Senavitis submerged in a stream, she says, "Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don't." As the art moves, or water moves around it, or as the sun comes and goes, each piece "takes on its own life," she says.

As she planned Sewing on Water, Sturtevant was careful not to remove the larger rocks that anchor her rippling white lines. "There's a whole habitat underneath the rock you destroy," she says.

Those out for their usual weekend walks along the trail are in turn perplexed and delighted by Sturtevant's work and that of others.

"This is gorgeous," says Drusilla Bunch, strolling with her friend Glenn Roscoe. "It really gives you an appreciation of art and God's beauty."

Roscoe agrees: It's as if they are "walking with God through his nature."

Sturtevant and others hope the project will become an annual event, and that eventually, when the Gwynns Falls Trail extends a full 14 miles, it will become an even longer palette for artists' imaginations.

Exhibition

"Whisper the Wind" exhibit is open from dusk until dawn along the Gwynns Falls Trail through Sunday. The trail begins at the Winans Meadow Trailhead on Franklintown Road.

On Saturday, a jazz concert takes place at 5 p.m. in the Gwynns Falls Park Pavilion, located at the Winans Meadow Trailhead.

On Sunday, art walks and art workshops take place from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.

For more information and directions, call 410-396-0440 or 410-448-5663. Artist: Brooke Sturtevant is seen with her piece "Sewing on Water" on the Gwynns Falls trail.

 
 
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