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Astronaut-honoring butter sculpture at the Ohio State Fair. Butter sculptures are traditional at many Midwest state fairs.

How I remember the kooky state-fair butter sculptures I saw when I lived in Minnesota! This year, to honor the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, there was a particularly unusual one at the Ohio state fair.

Elizabeth Howell wrote at Space.com in July, “The Ohio State Fair is buttering up its visitors with a sculpture series to celebrate the big moon-landing anniversary 50 years ago.

“The sculptures are of the Apollo 11 moon crew – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins – as well as a separate buttery interpretation of Armstrong in his spacesuit by the lunar module, Eagle. There’s also a butter cow and calf standing beside the Apollo 11 patch. This took more than 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) of butter to create. …

“Said Jenny Hubble, senior vice president of communications for the American Dairy Association Mideast, [the sculpture] pays special tribute to Armstrong, who is originally from Wapakoneta, Ohio. …

“In between gazing at the yellow sculptures of the crew, visitors will have a choice of many dairy foods, including ice cream, milkshakes, cheese sandwiches — and of course, milk.

“While the butter connection seems at first to be a stretch, Armstrong did buy a dairy farm in Ohio after leaving NASA in 1971, two years after his epic first steps on the moon, according to a 2012 article in the Independent.” More.

According to Wikipedia, “Butter sculptures often depict animals, people, buildings and other objects. They are best known as attractions at state fairs in the United States as lifesize cows and people. … Butter carving was an ancient craft in Tibet, Babylon, Roman Britain and elsewhere. The earliest documented butter sculptures date from Europe in 1536, where they were used on banquet tables. The earliest pieces in the modern sense as public art date from ca. 1870s America, created by Caroline Shawk Brooks, a farm woman from Helena, Arkansas. The heyday of butter sculpturing was about 1890-1930, but butter sculptures are still a popular attraction at agricultural fairs, banquet tables and as decorative butter patties.”

Butter Art: Caroline Shawk Brooks, 19th century Arkansas farm woman
“Dreaming Iolanthe” depicts Yolande, Duchess of Lorraine, the heroine of Henrik Hertz’s play
King René’s Daughter. Says Wikipedia, “It was this 1876 masterpiece that ignited popular interest in butter sculpting as a public art form. The bowl was kept cool with ice underneath it.”
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Photo: Eye Ubiquitous/Rex/Shutterstock
“It is not in dispute that the shark is not in harmony with its surroundings,” a planning inspector wrote in 1992.

This is not a story about a real shark, although sharks are often on my mind as warming seas move the dangerous kinds to the northern beaches that my family frequents. There is certainly plenty to say about real sharks — both about avoiding the places that their food congregates (seals, for example) and about protecting them to live in the wild. (My 4-year-old granddaughter will tell anyone willing to listen that shark fin soup is bad.)

But this story is about shark art.

Aamna Mohdin writes at the Guardian, “One April evening in 1986, Bill Heine was sitting on the steps opposite his newly purchased terraced house in Oxford, drinking a glass of wine, when he turned to his friend and asked a simple question: ‘Can you do something to liven it up?’

“His friend, the sculptor John Buckley, provided an answer in the shape of an eight-metre (25ft) shark which would sit on his roof, perpetually appearing as though it had just crashed into the house from the sky. The fibreglass fish, which became known as the Headington Shark after the Oxford suburb, led Heine, a local journalist and businessman who died last week, into a six-year legal battle with the local council.

“The process turned a relatively unremarkable street into a beloved local landmark and resulted in one of the most notable triumphs of British eccentricity over petty bureaucracy. …

“ ‘You could see the Americans were taking off from Heyford outside of Oxford to bomb Gaddafi in Libya,’ Buckley said. Both Buckley and Heine wanted to make a powerful statement about the barbarity of war and the feeling of vulnerability and utter helplessness when disaster struck. …

“The artist started on the work immediately after his discussion with Heine. He worked with a group of volunteers – largely students and other anti-war activists – to build an artificial roof to hold the shark outside his studio. He didn’t tell any of them where he planned to put the sculpture. …

“ ‘The crane just dropped it straight in and it went in beautifully as the postman was passing,’ Buckley said. ‘That first morning was amazing. By Sunday, it was worldwide and its been like that for 30-odd years.’

“Oxford city council immediately opposed the installation of the shark. At first, they said it was dangerous to the public, but engineers and inspectors pronounced it structurally safe.

“Heine, an American who moved to the UK to study at Oxford University in the 1960s, then submitted a planning application, which was rejected by the council. He appealed to the environment secretary, then Michael Heseltine. …

“Heseltine’s planning inspector, Peter Macdonald, investigated and ultimately came out in favour of keeping the sculpture, with an official ruling that has gained legendary status among town planners for its defence of art.

“ ‘In this case it is not in dispute that the shark is not in harmony with its surroundings, but then it is not intended to be in harmony with them,’ wrote Macdonald in his official ruling. ‘The council is understandably concerned about precedent here.

‘The first concern is simple: proliferation with sharks (and heaven knows what else) crashing through roofs all over the city. This fear is exaggerated.

” ‘In the five years since the shark was erected, no other examples have occurred … any system of control must make some small place for the dynamic, the unexpected, the downright quirky. I therefore recommend that the Headington Shark be allowed to remain.’ …

“After Heine died [in March], tributes came flooding in from many locals, including city councillors.

“[Patrick Gray, an economist who lived his whole life in Oxford], described Heine as a ‘colourful character’ who inspired people. He said: ‘We once had a 12-year-old boy visit from America. He was miserable and unhappy when he arrived, so we took him to see the house. He left with a very big smile on his face.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here. And be sure to check out the shark-girl sculpture in Buffalo, NY, which blog KerryCan old me about. Pretty funny.

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Photo: Calvin Nicholls
Wilson’s Bird of Paradise rendered in paper.

Some people seem to make a beeline straight from childhood to the work that will define them. People like Mozart, for example. Others have a long, circuitous route to greatness. Malvolio weighs in on the puzzle in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Pat Leonard writes at Living Bird that Calvin Nicholls came to his amazingly great art a bit by accident.

“The daily commute to his attic studio is short and steep. The road to success for Canadian artist Calvin Nicholls has been much longer. He’s spent the last 30 years perfecting an unusual art form that is all about light, shadow, shape—and illusion. Nicholls is a paper sculptor who creates fantastically detailed birds and other animals that seem to leap, lean, or flutter straight out of their frames. His career evolved from drawing, model-making, sculpting, photography, and periodic doses of serendipity.

“ ‘It’s so clear in my mind—it was 1983,’ says Nicholls. ‘I had my own graphic design studio in Toronto. I met a fellow who was manipulating paper to produce areas of highlight and shadow to create the feeling of depth in two dimensions. We worked on a restaurant menu concept together and I could see the potential in this technique. I got playing with paper sculpture myself and it was just so much fun.’

“At first, Nicholls created his sculptures as a method for creating his final product, a photograph that could surprise viewers by seeming three dimensional. The technique turned out to be a hit when Nicholls introduced it to some of his clients. He showed photographic prints of his work in an art show in Ontario in 1990, but he also wound up selling sculptures of a Snowy Owl and Mallard as well.

“ ‘I was focused on the prints and trying to make two dimensions look like three,’ Nicholls says. ‘Then clients would say, so where’s the artwork? And I thought, yikes—I never even thought about displaying the artwork! I still marvel that I didn’t know then that the original artwork could be as interesting as the illusion created in the prints with sophisticated studio lighting.’

“Switching focus to the original artwork meant reducing the depth of his sculptures so they could be framed and so the jumble of foam core supports and toothpicks underneath didn’t show when the piece was viewed from an angle. It took a lot of time and experimentation. But the end result is an uncanny illusion of depth from layers of paper that are only about an inch thick. …

‘What makes the sculptures work is thinking about anatomy and how [feathers] flow a certain way on the musculoskeletal structure,’ says Nicholls. ‘I have to get a sense of the skeleton and the muscles and what they do in certain gestures.’ ”

Read more and see the great pictures at Living Bird, here.

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Photo: Aventura Mall
Louise Bourgeois’s Eye Benches are among the impressive works of art at Miami’s Aventura Mall.

When Suzanne was a toddler, I loved going to the mall, Eastview Mall in Victor, New York, so she could run around. Even today, I may go to a mall for my walk when the weather is bad. But on the whole, I avoid the typically oppressive atmosphere of malls. This one in Miami would have to be an exception. It’s a real art gallery.

Alexandra Peers writes at Architectural Digest, “About a dozen years ago, [real-estate developer Jackie Soffer] began buying artworks for the 2.8-million square-foot Aventura Mall, one of the largest in America. …

“A few malls have art, a very few have good art, but almost none have the button-pushers and immersive installations that the Aventura Mall features. Artists on view include pioneers or buzzy contemporary players like Louise Bourgeois, Wendell Castle, Lawrence Weiner, Julian Opie, and Daniel Arsham. There’s a 93-foot-long slide by artist Carsten Höller, who had another one in London’s Tate Modern museum.

“At first glance, it all seems highly unlikely, but — much like Steve Wynn’s groundbreaking Bellagio Hotel, which signaled to a certain set that the luxury property in Las Vegas had Picassos — the art immediately and wordlessly brands the shopping center.

” ‘Mall has slightly negative connotations,’ Soffer notes, but in Aventura, given its size, longevity (it opened in 1983 and has expanded repeatedly since), and events program, it means to be ‘a real community center.’ Plus, the art is an audience attraction — and great selfie bait.

“[Soffer] concedes that there’s also a popular and much-photographed ‘Love’ sculpture on New York’s Sixth Avenue, near the Museum of Modern Art. But she brags happily, ‘That’s red and blue. Ours is a red, blue, and green artist’s proof!’

“Not all the mall’s retail-art mash-ups go smoothly, of course. One October, sculptures by Ugo Rondinone, a series of Easter Island–style heads atop a plinth of weathered wood, were installed in a gloomy corridor. A few weeks later, a store tenant asked when the Halloween decorations were being taken down. He found them ‘scary,’ given their tucked-away locale. It was a classic case of bad placement, laughs Soffer, who adds that the works have been moved to a wide-open area and are quite popular now. …

“Perhaps the biggest surprise of having the art collection in the mall, says Soffer, has been the unexpected number of adults, rather than kids, who want to take pictures with the pieces. An outdoor fountain of spouting bronze gorillas and animals by The Haas Brothers is, if anything, even more popular when bad weather forces the mall to turn off the water—because fans can get much closer to the figures.”

See more of the art here.

Photo: Leo Diaz/ Aventura Mall
Carsten Höller’s Aventura Slide Tower.

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I finally got to this year’s Art Ramble in Concord’s Hapgood Wright Town Forest — site-specific creations from the Umbrella artists planted among fallen logs and leaves.

There were quite a few other visitors on the cold, sunny day. One couple shared a laugh about their madly yapping dog, who had been spooked by the recumbent figure of Thoreau in the woods. Another couple discussed with me the best way to avoid a shadow on the chicken-and-egg-sculpture. And a friendly woman who was a United Church of Christ minister and artist herself joined me for half the walk. We helped each other spot pieces that blended in so much with the surroundings that at first, when you saw a descriptive sign but no art, you would think the work had already been removed.

I particularly liked the tiny people — one hermit in contemplation under a root, others peeking out of the bark or cavorting on a dead log.

A man with a top hat and frog face was standing next to the pond — a Slavic water spirit and trickster that I am happy to know about.

My favorite this year was the spirit emerging from the earth at the base of a tree. At first I thought, Caliban, but then looked at his gentle face.

My report on the 2016 Art Ramble is here, and the one on the 2017 Art Ramble is here.

If you live in Massachusetts or are visiting Walden Pond, which is nearby, the Art Ramble is up until Nov. 30 this year. It will make you feel like creating some art yourself — especially with leaves and sticks and mud.

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Photo: Glenn Castellano
A design by Meredith Bergmann of suffragists Elizabeth C. Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the first Central Park statue depicting real women.

Other than fictional characters like Alice in Wonderland, females have not been represented among Central Park’s statues. A new sculpture, of suffragists Elizabeth C. Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, is the first step in changing the all-male array of historical figures in the park.

Nadja Sayej reports at the Guardian, “In 1995, the artist Meredith Bergmann was working on a film set in Central Park when she noticed something was off.

“ ‘I noticed then there were no statues of women,’ said Bergmann. ‘There was a wonderful Alice in Wonderland sculpture, but there were no sculptures of actual women of note and accomplishment.’

“Now, 23 years later, Bergmann has created the winning design for a bronze statue of New York suffragists Elizabeth C Stanton and Susan B Anthony, who fought for women’s right to vote. Bergmann’s creation will be erected in Central Park on 26 August 2020, coinciding with the centennial of the ratification of the 19th amendment ‘Votes for Women.’ …

“There are only five public statues of real women in New York City (excluding fictional characters like Alice in Wonderland and Mother Goose), while there are 145 sculptures of men, including statues of William Shakespeare and Ludwig van Beethoven, who are both in Central Park.

“ ‘We are happy to have broken the bronze ceiling to create the first statue of real women in the 164-year history of Central Park,’ said Pam Elam, the president of the Monumental Women campaign, which is backing the statue. …

“The statue has a long scroll that snakes from a desk down to a ballot box, which is meant to represent the change they made to the 19th amendment – but it doesn’t stop there. The scroll will detail the voices of over 20 other women, including Ida B Wells-Barnett and Sojourner Truth, with quotes written chronologically from 1848 to 2020. …

“While the quotes are currently kept under wraps, a few potential teasers have been posted on the group’s Instagram account. For example, Shirley Chisholm, the first black congresswoman, once said: ‘You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining, you make progress by implementing ideas,’ while Maya Angelou once said: ‘We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.’ …

“[Says] Elam, ‘Women’s history is such a treasure chest of inspirational stories, it gives us courage to keep fighting for women’s rights and achieve equality in our lives. We want to get their stories out there for people to be energized by their contributions.’ ” More at the Guardian, here.

I’m in New York this week to be with my sister as she winds up six weeks of radiation and chemo. If I see any statues of women, I’ll be sure to share a picture.

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Photo: Emerald Necklace Conservancy
Starting August 11, five “fog sculptures” by artist Fujiko Nakaya will grace the string of Boston parks known as the Emerald Necklace until the end of October. Nakaya uses a system of pumps, pressurized hoses, and ultrafine nozzles to create her sculptures.

You can make art from almost anything, but you need an artist’s imagination to see the possibilities. I notice that in my grandchildren, who take on creative projects that seem impossible to dull adults — like making a necklace with a heavy rock and some paper. In this story, artist Fujika Nakaya saw the possibilities of fog.

As Graham Ambrose reports at the Boston Globe, “The Emerald Necklace, Boston’s 7-mile pendant of parks built in the 19th century, will soon have a new adornment: a string of artworks made from water vapor.

“This summer, artist Fujiko Nakaya will debut ‘fog sculptures’ at five sites along the Necklace. The immersive sculptures — wafting clouds of machine-made mist — will be viewable from dawn to dusk between Aug. 11 and Oct. 31. …

“Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston hailed the project, calling the Emerald Necklace ‘a crown jewel in the City of Boston’ in a statement to the Globe. ‘Similar to the intent of the Emerald Necklace, art has a connecting power, bringing together people from all different backgrounds and all different places.’ …

“Nakaya, born in Japan in 1933, calls fog ‘the most generous of mediums.’ Since 1969 she has built more than 80 fog sculptures across four continents, transforming open spaces into dreamlike landscapes with custom-designed installations. …

Fog is living and dying. It condenses and evaporates simultaneously, with dynamism and vulnerability. It is a positive and negative,” Nakaya told the Globe. …

“To create her sculptures, which emit fog in controlled intervals, Nakaya uses a patented system of pumps, pressurized hoses, and ultrafine nozzles. Computer software receives weather data and alters fog flow to suit wind speeds, dew point, temperature, and humidity.”

Read about the dramatic origins of the sponsoring conservancy at the Boston Globe, here. The Emerald Necklace was the work of landscape visionary Frederick Law Olmsted, who also created designs for New York’s Central Park, the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and more.

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