Guest Blogger: Maddy Jason
Maddy Jason: For the month of July, I returned to Salem Art Works (SAW) for a Resident Alumni Artist position. Salem Art Works is a sculpture park and artist co-op that hosts artists at all different stages in their careers, and organizes special events, classes, workshops, and festivals available to the public. Some of SAW’s facilities include foundry, welding, blacksmithing, glass, ceramics, and screen printing studios, as well as a 120 acre sculpture park. SAW is located in rural Salem NY, approximately an hour north of Albany, near the border of Vermont. Salem Art Works is a converted dairy farm, with several historic houses and barns that accommodate studio space, galleries, and living quarters.
The sculpture park is on a hill, overlooking the green mountains of Vermont. Artists participate in general maintenance and upkeep of the park, as well as teaching workshops and helping with events. Several years ago, I was an intern there and have been returning for special events over the years. I participated in a work-exchange position that included housing, food, and studio space.
The artists at SAW rely on each other to help make work. Especially large-scale work! We all possess an array of skills and constantly share them. We critique each other’s work, offer suggestions, assist with process, teach each other new processes, help move and install the work, and celebrate and congratulate each other when the work is completed. Being around motivated, hardworking artists inspired me to try new processes and make as much work as I could during my time there.
I lived in a “tiny house” built on a trailer platform, and worked with casting iron, aluminum, and bronze, welding steel, and casting glass. Since my arrival, I helped artists prepare for aluminum, bronze, and iron pours; preparing, repairing, and modifying a cupola (furnace that melts iron), helping artists make molds to cast the metal into, and making my own work. Many artists were interested in having work cast in iron, aluminum, and bronze, so we had plenty of molds to pour!
The main project I worked on involved casting iron spindles I made by turning foam on a small wood lathe. I found 2 inch insulation foam and dull wood-turning chisels and sand paper and got to work making about 10 feet of spindles. I glued the foam together into 3 foot sections, and made 4 molds that consisted of 2 parts each. All the mold-making happened within the first two weeks I was there, as the iron pour was scheduled for July 16th.
Once cast in iron, I attached all the spindles end-to-end with hardware connections and by brazing the iron. I fabricated stands, connectors, and brackets, and installed the work on a concrete half-wall near the blacksmithing and glass studios, where it will remain for 3 years. The completed piece is 10 feet long. While this wasn’t the only thing I worked on during my residency, it was the biggest and consumed most of my time. I screwed in the last concrete anchor on the day I was leaving! Some other projects I worked on during my time at SAW included small cast-glass sculptures, cast-bronze sculptures, and a steel sculpture made from parts from a scrap yard.
In addition to making artwork at SAW, the artists take trips to nearby cities and towns to visit galleries and purchase materials that are not found in the small town of Salem. One place I looked forward to visiting when I returned to SAW was “Mac Steel,” a scrap yard and metal supplier in Rutland Vermont, about an hour away from SAW. Visitors to the scrap yard are allowed to roam the yard and pick out and purchase anything they can pull from the massive piles of scrap metal, with permission from the office. Going to the yard is an inspiring experience for me. Seeing the melding of colors from corroded iron and peeling paint with the lush green of the surrounding fields and trees inspires new ideas and imagery in my work. I have used both the pictures I take at scrap yards and the pieces I pull from the piles in my work. For more information on Mac Steel, visit www.macsteelvt.org/
We also took a trip to MASSMoCA in North Adams Massachusetts, about an hour drive from SAW. The director of fabrication and art installation, Richard Criddle, was an artist in residence at SAW that summer and generously offered us free admission and a personalized tour of the museum and a behind-the-scenes look at their fabrication shop and some of the up-and-coming exhibitions. MASSMoCA has several buildings with art installations ranging from the enormous and enveloping to the intimate and meditative. I was most excited to see Trenton Doyle Hancock’s multimedia exhibition, consisting of drawings, paintings, original comics, video-art, collections of toys, and colorful structures, but I was also blown away by the ethereal work of James Turrell, who flooded spaces with colored lights, vaporous fog, and some architectural elements. A Sol LeWitt retrospective filled one of the buildings, displaying a variety of wall drawings, which were selfie hot-spots. Annie Lennox had a mysterious exhibition that included altered music videos and a heaping, glittering pile of belongings and objects, with their locations and significance mapped out in a detailed pamphlet. One of the most striking exhibitions for me was Rafa Esperanza’s “Staring at the Sun,” which was installed in a closed room. The floor of this room was covered in hand-made adobe bricks, and the paintings were all painted on adobe as well. I was most enamored by the smell of the room, like very good dirt. It was a small room that many people seemed to just walk by, so the experience was quite personal. I was not able to see all the buildings, installations, and outdoor sculptures during my visit, but I plan on coming back sometime in the future! For more information, visit https://massmoca.org/
Since this residency, I have returned to SAW for their annual “Festival of Fire” in September, a 3 day long festival attended by professional artists, college students, and the public, consisting of workshops, keynote speakers, performances, and gallery shows celebrating foundry, glass, blacksmithing, and wood-fired ceramics.
I encourage everyone to visit sculpture parks and artist co-ops! They are closer than you may think, and provide you with numerous opportunities!