Environmental Art Creates Community
Enhancing Our Awe
Roger Feldman (left) looks on as guests experience SPU student-designed outdoor art during an open house.
A hand-painted sign hangs at the entrance to Bruce Amundson’s backyard. It reads: “Great art teaches us to live life more alertly.”
Just beyond the sign, woodchip paths wind their way down terraced lawns into a grotto of woods bordered by a stream. It’s an idyllic scene. But what grabs one’s attention is the collection of metal, glass, wood, ceramic, and bronze sculptures peppering the yard. There are nine, ranging from 4- to 17-feet tall.
“I just love how sculpture enhances the beauty of the landscape,” says Amundson,
a physician and retired University of Washington professor. “No other medium can match its expressive grandeur.”
Last spring, a 10th sculpture joined his backyard collection — temporarily. Thirty feet in length, made of wood and plastic, the piece represented a unique collaboration between Amundson and nine Seattle Pacific University art students.
The unlikely class project came about after Amundson met SPU Professor of Art Roger Feldman in 2007 at an international sculpture conference held in Seattle. Feldman, an outdoor installation artist and chair of Seattle Pacific’s Art Department, invited Amundson to visit his studio. Intrigued by Feldman’s work, Amundson invited the artist to his proper-ty. The idea to involve
Feldman’s students started from there.
“Bruce asked me if I wanted a spot for faculty and student projects,” recalls Feldman. “The opportunity for students to experience the relationship between art and environment was exciting. And very rare.”
Feldman and the class met with Amundson at his property in early April 2008. By then, Amundson had convinced neighbors on either side of his house to participate, which meant the students needed to create three large-scale installations.
Undaunted, the nine women took measurements, brainstormed ideas, made sketches, presented scale models of the designs, listened to the homeowners, adjusted their concepts, constructed individual pieces, and assembled the sculptures — all within about six weeks. “Water” was the unifying theme of the three installations, which were inspired by the shape, flow, and nature of the nearby stream.
Feldman was pleased with their efforts. “Full-scale installations require an adjustment in thinking,” he says. “It’s less about the object and more about the experience for the viewers. The students did it gracefully.”
They’d done more than complete a challenging class assignment, however. Kids from the neighborhood saw the sculptures and went to take a closer look at them. They were excited and brought their families back to see. And suddenly people who had never spoken before were getting to know each other. The art the students created had become a bridge between neighbors.
“It was a humbling experience,” says
Allison Gracey, a 2008 visual communication graduate. “Creating your own work is like forming a poem. This was more like conversation — it got the community interacting. There’s beauty in that.”
Amundson agrees. “We keep ourselves in bubbles, separated from each other.” He motions to his hand-painted sign. “There’s not enough awe in our lives. This was about enhancing our awe.”
—Photo by Mike Siegel
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