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[whitespace] Sculpture Jam
Photograph by Michael Amsler

Jam band: Arleen Place and Virginia Harrison work with scrap metal at Sculpture Jam 2001.

Piece Process

Sculpture Jam transforms Sebastopol

By Gretchen Giles

PUNCTUATED by the loud whine of chain saws, the burr of marble-cutters, the hiss of welding torches, and the rhythmic, measured, metallic twang of pounding hammer heads, the recent three-day Sculpture Jam in Sebastopol was anything but quiet--though peace was the point.

The intensely physical action of making sculpture was evident in all its messy glory as the defunct lumberyard adjacent to the Sebastopol Center for the Arts became an ad hoc outdoor studio for some 23 artists for the fourth year in a row.

Literally shadowed by Running Fence--whose silky white car air-bag panels draped a shade for those working in the center of the yard--the Sculpture Jam was planned and organized long before the events of Sept. 11 changed all our lives.

Originally envisioned by coordinators Warren Arnold and Daniel Oberti as a way for artists to collaborate in a setting less lonely than the private studio, Sculpture Jam went off in a new direction after the World Trade Center and Pentagon disasters of last month. Based as it is in Sebastopol, a city that recently debated an official referendum to inform President Bush of its opposition to retaliatory attacks, the event took on a new tone as works that might have been merely artful became politically charged.

Most dramatically altered was Oberti's contribution. A sculptor of international renown, Oberti lugged pounds of wet clay to the Jam, exhorting visitors and fellow artists to create weapons of mass destruction from the damp stuff. PVC piping outlined the small, cordoned square established for the "exhibit," phallic missile shapes arising unsteadily from the dirt in its middle, clay guns pointing blindly at the sky.

On Sunday afternoon, the piping was transformed into a sprinkler system, its cool waters melting the beautiful wickedness as surely as Dorothy dumping a bucket. "It will be," Oberti gaily predicted on Saturday, "a big mess!"

COMPLETELY COVERED in a fine film of limestone dust, stone sculptor Warren Arnold pulled off his earmuffs and goggles. "Where's my red crayon?" he asked. Once it was retrieved from the rubble below his saw table, Arnold deftly drew fast upward strokes on the limestone flame he had just released from its block. "My goal is to make readable imagery as you walk by quickly," he explained.

This flame was added to a growing pile of stone, metal, wood, and glass objects jumbled together near Arnold's workstation. An impromptu shrine to the attack victims, this physical thought-process is destined to find a place in town.

In fact, the Sebastopol City Council has pledged to find sites to install most of the works created at this year's event. The new pieces, which will be installed for a two-year period, will join works from previous Jams, including last year's controversial "Door," which now graces the town's plaza. After this year's additions, the town's public places will be playing host to 16 Jam-created sculptures, according to Linda Galetta, Sebastopol Center for the Arts director.

Acknowledging the council's commitment to public art, Arnold gestured across the street to another Jam alumnus, the "Split Rock." Two imperfect halves of one whole, the "Rock" was fashioned during a previous year's art confab and also stands in the plaza. "It's become an instant shrine," Arnold explained. "A place for the community to gather."

And indeed, sun-warmed candle wax scents the ground around the "Rock," piles of fresh loam are scattered at its base, orchard apples rot gently among pine needles and gourds and bits of homemade collage. "Peace," anonymous hands have written on torn bits of notebook scrap, paper-clipped to a stand of dead oak branches. "Peace."

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From the October 11-17, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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