After dinner we followed the outdoor sculpture trail through downtown Ossining, all the way to the river. The town is celebrating its 200th year with all kinds of events and tours, but this seemed like the perfect way to mark a pristine late-spring evening, on a full stomach, wearing comfortable sandals and clutching a map that contained the artists’ philosophy for every one of 26 large-scale pieces.
I found myself being drawn to the environment around the sculptures as much as the works themselves. We walked up to Elizabeth Barksdale’s In a Sea of Grass, for example, and though I liked her justaposition of wood, steel and corrugated plastic roofing, what attracted me especially was the handsome building that served as its backdrop. Built in 1907 in the Beaux-Arts style, the Washington School was the educational heart of Ossining until the student base overflowed its capacity a quarter of a century later. I always like entablatures inscribed with words that someone at some time decided were central to the building’s purpose – here LANGUAGES stands at the forefront.
At the Ossining Public Library, which fortunately places no limit on the number of volumes card-holders can check out, I found a statue of myself.
Or at least it’s the elegant lady I’d like to see myself as, by Leonda Finke, and it’s also the most expensive piece in the show.
In front of the high school, sculpture and more distractions.
Chinese Firecrackers dangled from the broken branch of a big old pine on the front lawn. Did Fielding Brown choose the site because of the broken branch or break it as part of his art? Two songs danced through my head, Lucinda Williams’ Metal Firecracker (Once we rode together/
In a metal firecracker) and Ryan Adams’ Firecracker (I just wanna burn up hard and bright/I just wanna be your firecracker). Yet no sculpture could grab me in the gut as much as the mulberry tree at the path as we left, dropping its ripe berries to the stained sidewalk.
Childhood memories of tasting the fruit, spitting it out… over and over again. Why, I ask, would you try a mulberry more than once?
Across the street, a Havisham-cake in a mysterious bakery that always seems closed.
A few paces down stood a fine brick church with a sign that beckoned to me. .
A sculpture called Stamen had lemony chunks of glass lodged in it like the one in my garden Wizard Stick.
But calling to me from behind on the church door was a small interior-rhymed poem I liked more.
My favorite work, called Let’s Roll, stood in the middle of a busy V.
I liked as much as anything the sculptor’s statement on the back of my map. James Havens says:
I intend that my sculptures should contain enough information that the viewer is not confused or mystified by the artist’s intent. I wish to be considered a good journeyman ironworker who demonstrates a high degree of craftsmanship while using only the best materials to create enduring sculptures that speak to the highest aspirations of the human spirit.
The stainless steel symbol lives up to Havens’ intention, I would say, and I would like my own work to have a similarly high degree of craftsmanship.
Now what? The shadows had elongated on Main Street. But the Hudson at Ossining was still golden.
Sculptures were strewn across the bank. A mound of wood in Matthew Weber’s Cedar Cluster, like chewed beaver logs.
Too many artworks to digest.
But the most impressive sculpture of the town stood only blocks away.
Sing Sing prison, its original cell block installed in 1825, has earned at various times the coinages “up the river”, “the big house,” and “the last mile.” The name comes from that of the Native American people, the “Sinck Sinck”, from whom the land was acquired in 1685. The village sprang up around it. The jail still operates as a maximum security facility with about 1,700 prisoners, even as children run and chase in playgrounds right outside its walls and the Hudson Line actually sends its trains right through the complex.
The kingdom of ruffians, invalids, and other misfits. You can drive right along the exterior walls and catch a glimpse through an open guardhouse door of a corrections officer reading the newspaper.
But the wall itself is the main attraction. No sculpture could approximate its power.