WAA Sculpture Walk Features Works by Two Alumni

This summer, the Washington Art Association & Gallery unveiled its 2018 Sculpture Walk, which features works by more than 40 internationally and nationally recognized artists and emergent sculptors. Among them are two Gunnery alumni Sam Funk ’09 and Jake Paron ’13.
Billed in “Architectural Digest,” as “a major new installation” in Litchfield County, the outdoor sculpture exhibit extends throughout Washington Depot. More than 60 works by artists including Frank Stella, Julian Schnabel, Caio Fonseca, Tim Prentice, Joy Brown, Philip Grausman, Elizabeth MacDonald, Arthur Carter and Mark Mennin dot the landscape, mingling with the shops and galleries, the farmer’s market and Town Hall. The exhibit, which was co-curated by Mennin and Barbara Talbot, who are both members of the WAA Board of Trustees, has been a draw for residents and visitors alike, with docent-led and self-guided tours and special events, such as artist talks, yoga and children’s art classes.

“This bucolic little corner of Connecticut has always drawn an eclectic, creative crowd of writers, artists, musicians, and architects. Jasper Johns, Alexander Calder, Philip Roth, Meryl Streep, and Jim Dine, to name a few, have chosen to live in Litchfield County,” Elena Bowes wrote in the magazine, quoting Fonseca as saying: “To exhibit here, especially under Mennin’s curatorship, will lend a bucolic spaciousness-beyond the white-box gallery-to ponder what it is that sculptors do with form, light and air.”

Both Funk and Paron utilize natural materials – earth, stone, grass – in their work. Both hail from Litchfield County towns and work in the studio with Mennin. It seems appropriate then that the work of these two emergent artists and Gunnery alumni is sharing space in the new Titus Park along the Shepaug River. The four-acre site was transformed from what was, historically, the town Highway Department’s storage area through an effort that involved architect Peter Talbot, who is also President of the WAA Board of Trustees, town officials, including First Selectman Mark Lyons, the Highway Department and independent contractors.

Funk’s “Crowning,” a 10-foot granite airplane from his "Paper Planes" series, appears poised for takeoff near the entrance to the park. He spent the last year carving it by hand from a piece of black Virginia Mist granite.

“It’s a Bernini-esque idea,” he said referring to the 17th Century Italian sculptor and architect, “returning stone to its igneous, flowing form. Mark is of that school. He’s always trying to turn stone back to its igneous form and bring movement to it. I wanted to see if I could bring some levity to stone and a playfulness.”

A 2013 graduate of Syracuse University, where he majored in writing and rhetoric, Funk is currently working as a studio assistant for Mennin while pursuing his own art. He acknowledged there is an obvious juxtaposition between the lightness of a paper airplane and the weight of the granite he has chosen to work with in his designs, and his approach incorporates a sense of fun. “You can’t help but fold any scrap of paper into a paper airplane and see how far you can get it, even in idle time. I wanted to see that form translated. A paper airplane can also be a sent message,” he said, noting that when you click ‘send’ on an email, you click on the icon of a paper airplane and it makes a “whoosh” sound. “It’s putting something out there and I thought it was a good idea to explore as I embark on this journey of being a stone sculptor.”

Adjacent to Funk’s sculpture is Paron’s “Depositional Environment,” a massive installation of undulating, grassy earth that measures 140 feet long, 50 feet wide and 10 feet high. It was created using subsoil and rocks harvested from the Titus Park property, which were shaped according to Paron’s design, capped with fresh topsoil and seeded with new grass.

A native of Woodbury, Paron graduated in 2017 from Colorado College with a bachelor’s degree in studio art. As a student, he received the 2016 Craig Herst Arts Prize Scholar (CHAPS) Award, which is presented annually to a junior studio art major who embodies Herst's passion for the arts and has demonstrated excellence during his or her career at Colorado College. Paron’s installation, “Alterne,” was one of two selected for the student art installation at the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center. He has shown both sculpture and installation works at the Coburn Gallery in Colorado Springs, and he has worked as a studio assistant with Mennin since 2014.

Asked about his inspiration for “Depositional Environment,” Paron explained that the Titus Park site is located in a flood plain of the Shepaug River. When the river floods, it carries materials and sediment that are deposited in the floodplain and remain there after the water recedes. “I was thinking about flood plains and depositional environments in general, and then I was thinking about how this area was used by the town,” which deposited rock, debris and general fill there, he said.

The shape of the earth work itself was dictated by Paron’s efforts to create “as many little private spaces as possible” within it, so multiple people can be viewing or walking on it at the same time without intrusion. There is even a place within the work where Paron envisions people will picnic. “When you walk around in it, there are all these little private coves and walls. It’s meant to be walked on,” he said.

Paron learned to use a small excavator and shaped some of the soil himself. He also had help from local landscaper Chris Bruzzi and builder Doug Smalley, as well as landscape architect Dirk Sabin, who developed plans years ago to restore the site and helped to facilitate approvals from the town’s land use commissions. Once the approvals were in place, it took about a week and a half for Paron’s sculpture to take shape, and about three months to complete the project. He views the grassy surface as “still kind of unfinished.” But he said, “It’s an ever-changing thing just because its living.”

“There are many sculpture tours in cities and gardens all around the world. But, being able to integrate the town, the businesses, and other nonprofit organizations is what makes this Sculpture Walk pretty unique,” Talbot said in a behind-the-scenes tour and interview featured on the “Explore Washington” blog. “The greatest benefit is the caliber of the work, the broad styles and mediums, and how they’ve been carefully incorporated into daily life. Frank Stella next to the Washington Market, Lauren Booth on River Road, Mary Adams in the Hickory Stick Bookshop – just to name a few. Most importantly, it is a ‘walking’ tour and meant to get us outside, outside of ourselves, and literally outside in this beautiful rural small town. There are no tickets and everyone is welcome. Just remember to be respectful of the sculptures and the environment!”

The 2018 Sculpture Walk is open daily from 9 a.m. until dusk through November 1. On Saturday, August 11, a new exhibit opens at WAA, “Maquette: The Art of the Model,” which showcases the models for many of the pieces from the sculpture walk, including those by Paron and Funk. An opening reception will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. at WAA, 4 Bryan Memorial Plaza, Washington Depot.

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Founded in 1850 by abolitionist, educator, and outdoorsman Frederick Gunn, The Gunnery is a coeducational college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9 through 12/post-graduate. Dedicated teacher-mentor-coaches challenge students to reach their full potential in a home-like setting where character and citizenship are valued as much as intellect and achievement. Individualized attention and high expectations help young learners develop not only the skills and confidence they will need in college, but also the moral compass and love of learning that will serve them well in life. The school attracts ambitious, academically curious students who will both shine as unique individuals and thrive as contributing members of a deeply connected community. By the time they graduate, Gunnery students have become well rounded, grounded young adults with a sharpened sense of who they are and who they want to become.