January 15, 2008 — University of Virginia students Su Kyung Park and Jim Nemer had no idea they would be chosen winners of a sculpture contest when they started the fall semester studio art class taught by McIntire Department of Art associate professor William Bennett.
On the first day of the 400-level sculpture class, in which students often pursue self-directed projects, Bennett relayed a call for proposals for artworks to be included in the Echoes of Nature Sculpture Park at Baker-Butler Elementary School in Albemarle County. Designs by Park, an international student from South Korea majoring in biology and studio art, and Nemer, a 70-year-old retiree studying in the School of Continuing and Professional Studies' Community Scholar Program, were selected from seven proposals that included submissions by classmates and other Charlottesville-area artists.
The sculptures will be completed during the spring semester and placed along an Albemarle County Greenways trail in the 57-acre park adjacent to the elementary school. The park's theme is the environment and provides a laboratory for teaching Baker-Butler students about saving, caring for and interpreting nature, as well as a place for the public to enjoy nature, according to Baker-Butler art teacher Isabelle Ramsey.
With the support of Baker-Butler's principal, Dave Cushman, and Pam Moran, the superintendent of schools in Albemarle County, Ramsey began installing commissioned sculptures in the park in 2001. This year's effort is supported by grants from the Charlottesville-Albemarle Community Foundation and the Bama Works Fund of the Dave Matthews Band.
The initiative helps the students "understand what sculpture is — what a 3-D object does to space, how it enhances it and makes a statement," said Ramsey, herself a sculptor. "It helps them understand the dialogue about sculpture."
The students meet the sculptors and learn how they go about creating their works. In addition to receiving $1,000 for their concept and an additional $1,000 for materials and installation, chosen artists are asked to present their work to Butler-Baker's students and PTO.
The jurors made "yin and yang choices," Bennett said. "The yin yang balance comes from different formal approaches, although the larger goals of both sculptures are remarkably similar."
"Su's design is horizontal, quiet, resting gently on the earth. Jim's design is vertical, monumental, connecting earth and sky. Both designs are poetic, allowing the Baker-Butler community to make connections between themselves and to the larger world, " Bennett added.
Park looked to her heritage in naming her sculpture "Azit," an abbreviation of the Russian word "agitpunkt," meaning a secret place for discussions by revolutionary groups — a common word used in Korea. Park brings another aspect of her heritage to the piece, which is subtitled "beans" and refers to the shapes of the seats made of clay filled with concrete and glazed to achieve a shining industrial look of Chinese pottery. Park chose the bean shape as an element in the piece because "beans grow into sprouts," representing new life and growth of a child, she explained. The abstract and organic bean shapes are arranged to invite "children to sit, socialize and rest, and to enjoy the fresh air," Park said.
Park's sculpture will provide a place for outdoor classes related to nature and the environment and for the children to interact with nature, one of the goals of the Echoes of Nature Park. She also conceived of the work as a place where grown-ups can enjoy nature and thoughts of innocence. In addition, the work incorporates a central piece filled with water.
Park designed the site-specific piece, which measures approximately 12-by-12 feet, as a vehicle for the students to also learn about making boundaries. When the sculpture is installed, the students will help her create a base of fine sand inside a line that defines the sculpture boundary and sets it apart from the forest. The boundary helps to define the sculpture space as special and a "comfort zone compared to [the] adventurous forest that contains many sharpies [or rough edges]," wrote Park in her proposal.
By contrast, Nemer chose a monumental obelisk form for his sculpture, "In Our Hands." The obelisk will incorporate imprints of children's hands pointing up to a metal globe of the earth resting on top. Teachers and other adults will be invited to add their handprints to the base of the sculpture. Nemer's goal in creating the design was to invoke the idea of active involvement in the survival of the planet, with adults and teachers supporting and educating the children to care for our planet. Nemer chose to use the obelisk form because in ancient Egyptian it represents protection and defense, he said.
Although it was not a requirement to have children be part of the process, both Nemer and Park said the jurors cited the interactive aspect of their designs as a factor in selecting their proposals.
With second-graders studying Egypt and the environment woven into the school's curriculum, these art installations will benefit Butler-Baker students for many years to come. The designs "fit into the context of the curriculum and art is good when it can do that," Bennett added.
"Although art has its own inherent voice and value, which justifies its existence in the human enterprise for the last 10,000 years, it is an added benefit in this situation when these sculptures can actively support the curriculum of the Baker-Butler Elementary School."