The Mountain Times

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Mixed-media sculptor Jake Beckman uses Tropical Storm Irene as inspiration for residency

POULTNEY-The William Feick Arts Center at Green Mountain College is pleased to announce the successful culmination of artist Jake Beckman's residency on campus. The sculpture that grew out of his residency project-the façade of a large, simple boat located in the flood buffer zone on the west side of campus-will be on display through Jan. 20.

Beckman's residency marked the first of its kind sponsored by the Feick Arts Center. "We couldn't be more pleased with the results," according to gallery director and assistant professor of art Jessica Cuni.

Mr. Beckman arrived with an open mind, seeking inspiration from the local environment and the college community. After brainstorming with students in an advanced art course, and meeting with GMC's geology professor John Van Hoesen, Beckman decided to create an art piece addressing the concepts of flooding, man's impact on nature and nature's impact on man, as well as our notions of (false) security.

Using the Poultney River and the still-present aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene as a source of both inspiration and materials, Jake set out with students to collect lumber and other debris left on the banks after Irene's floodwaters receded.

Over 60 students participated in some capacity with Beckman's project. Students collected truckloads of debris from both the college's river bank and a Poultney resident's property where there was a particularly high concentration of garbage. These efforts had the dual intent of restoring the natural beauty of the riverbank as well as sourcing no-cost material. Beckman used the collected materials to construct the façade of a boat located in the flood buffer zone on the west side of campus. The boat, measuring approximately 30 feet across and six feet high, was constructed in five days with the help of dedicated students and other GMC community members.

According to Beckman, the structure "represents the measures we all take to create a sense of security in the face of uncertain future events, be they natural disasters or otherwise."

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Photos courtesy of Kevin Coburn, Green Mountain College
Jake Beckman sculpts a boat from many found materials during his residency at Green Mountain College.


Beckman learned from professor Van Hoesen that many measures Vermonters historically undertook to protect their land from erosion (such as fortifying river banks and clearing channels) actually increase the speed of the river during heavy rains. The irony inherent in this concept and how it signifies our interconnectedness with each other and our environment inspired Beckman to construct the boat façade.

Practically, the resulting piece reminds us of the value of reusing materials, and awakens us to our current degree of waste and carelessness. Metaphorically, it is a symbol of fragile optimism: learning from the past to forge new hope and strategies for the future, while acknowledging the potential fallacy of protective measures we take. In the end, the boat stands as a totem to a community's ability to work together and Green Mountain College's commitment to sustainable stewardship.

In his general art practice, Beckman's work strikes a tone that is both somber and playful. He often uses the ingredients of the built environment- coal, sand, iron ore-to explore the memory of a time when Americans were more intimately connected to the processes that constructed and sustained their material world. Through his work, Beckman seeks to understand the contradiction between "progress" (especially Western notions of growth and civilization) and impermanence: humanity's role in a larger ecological context.

The gallery exhibition and viewing the boat project are both free and open to the public. General gallery hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 12-5 p.m. and Saturday from 10-2 p.m., or by appointment. Please note that the gallery will be closed over Green Mountain College's winter break ending Jan. 16.

Tagged: William Feick Arts Center, Green Mountain College, Jake Beckman