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Stone artist hatches bench-scope project

06.12.15
By: Mark Tarnacki
Stone scope view

Peering through the new stone scope creates the illusion of a solid stone wall because of how the installations by Thea Alvin align.

A curious group of about 30 people gathered at noon on Thursday, June 11, on the west side of the library lawn near McCarthy to watch as stone mason, designer and artist Thea Alvin “hatched” her latest project on campus – a curvy wall bench winding through the row of trees that incorporates an unusual stone “scope” feature.

Alvin finished the project – her second major installation on campus -- after working just over a week on it with her partner and fellow stone mason, Michael Clookey. It was funded by a gift from Pat Robins ’61 and his wife, Lisa Schamberg, who had been impressed by Alvin’s previous work, notably the wall and arch by the Teaching Gardens that Alvin completed at the end of last summer. They were present for Thursday’s event. Alvin said she chose the word “hatched” for the dedication as a whimsical variation on notion of “giving birth” to a new creation.

This latest piece has an interesting intentional tie-in with her previous nearby wall and arch: It incorporates a more formal, two-sided bench with a curvy wall bench attached that weaves around the trees, and on top of the formal part is a “scope” made of stones. The alignment of the bench and plinth/arch are such that when a person looks through the scope, the view places the plinth in the “negative” of the arch, so it looks like a solid wall. Those present Thursday – faculty, staff, passers-by -- lined up to peer, one after another, through the scope. Some viewers emitted delighted exclamations as they experienced the desired effect.

Alvin’s first wall and arch in the Teaching Gardens came to be after education professor Valerie Bang-Jensen and biology professor Mark Lubkowitz met Alvin at University of Vermont’s Fleming Museum during a “pecha kucha.” Alvin chatted with the professors during intermission and basically told them, “I make arches and you have a garden,” they recall. The more they read about her, the more they were impressed by her work and ability to talk about it, says Bang-Jensen, a frequent collaborator on projects in the garden with Lubkowitz.

They approached the vanderHeyden Endowment committee with their idea in hopes of adding an interesting new visual element to the Teaching Gardens. The committee was looking for a more permanent installation than the usual concerts or art shows they typically fund, so they gave the go-ahead and funded it, with President Jack Neuhauser supporting the idea. Made of Vermont field stone, the original installation consists of an arch tapering down to a bench, with an inverse of the arch sitting several feet in front of the opening.

Robins and Schamberg were inspired by conversations with Alvin throughout and after that project regarding what she hoped to do in the future, and after meetings with the Institutional Advancement Office agreed to fund this latest installation. Alan Dickinson of the College’s facilities crew made a foundation for it before Alvin began work at the start of the previous week.  

Last year, Alvin told a reporter her intention was “to create a sense of time and place, a memorial of this time” with her work. She has been a mason for 30 years, learning her craft from her father, who was a mason, and from master stone masons the world over. Alvin’s work has an international reputation and been featured in the New York Times, on Oprah, and elsewhere.

View more images of Thea Alvin's newest creation here>>

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