A Monument to NEC

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If you’ve walked by the John Lyons Center as of late, you’ve probably noticed the new abstract sculpture on the lawn, which reflects NEC and its surroundings, or the realist sculpture on the front porch that’s so realistic it’s been mistaken for actual humans by more than one passer-by.

This bronze realist piece was set up on Tuesday, September 27th, and is a work of Seward Johnson called “So the Bishop Said to the Actress…;” the abstract sculpture of corten steel sitting between the Currier Alumni Center and the John Lyons Center is a special piece created for the college by Mark Davis, and was put up the day before.

Crafted with NEC’s mission in mind, Davis was commissioned by NEC after the college received donations.  A committee, including Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs John O’Connor, Professor of Art History Inez McDermott, Professor of Art Darryl Furtkamp, Director of Capital Projects Daniel Gearan, and Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations Greg Palmer viewed Davis’s portfolio then held a meeting with the artist.

“Some ideas to consider that they mentioned were liberal arts education for a diverse student body,” remembered Davis.

After the conference, he constructed ten or twelve cardboard representations of his ideas then presented them to the group where everyone was inclined toward one in particular.  The chosen model had a village feeling and then an organic side, the individual—creative, emotional energy—Davis explained.  It was significant to him that the statue would allow people to walk underneath and through it.

“So you can touch both sides,” Davis said.

Professors McDermott and Furtkamp said Davis was struck by the college’s priorities as well as the natural and civic environment that surrounds it.  During the initial meeting, both professors became concerned the group had overwhelmed Davis, who would feel pressured to feature multiple aspects of the college in his work, but they assured him his vision was more than welcomed, and ultimately felt he did well in fusing what he does naturally with what NEC represents.

“It’s not something you stand back from.  It’s something you can engage with,” McDermott said.

Davis’s collection “Form and Harmony” will be displayed in the Chester Art Gallery until October 28th, and the artist encouraged onlookers to engage with it when he visited during the Fall Festival.

“I don’t think anyone would be surprised walking in here (the gallery) after looking at that,” Inez said of the artist’s sculpture outside the Lyons Center.  “I think he did a really good job of understanding who and what New England College is, and I think it was a nice relationship between his work as an abstract sculptor and ours.”

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“It is very indicative of what he does,” Furtkamp explained.  The only difference is because the sculpture is outside and will be subject to the elements and will need to be maintained, it is static, whereas most of his work is kinetic.”

Davis, a self-taught artist from the Boston area, said Artist Alexander Calder, a revolutionary whose 3D mobiles changed sculpture, inspired him to become an artist. At fourteen Davis discovered Calder’s work inside a book then started replicating his mobiles using any materials he could locate and later, started crafting metal jewelry in styles popular through the 80’s, such as large breastplate necklaces. His jewelry eventually ended up in Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales in New York City and was featured in Vogue.  But at some point he was ready to move on, so the natural transition was to mobiles, as that’s where he began.

When asked to describe his own work, Davis said, “Organic forms.  One of the big things for me is shaping sheet metal.  It’s exciting to start with a flat sheet and give it a fully dimensional form, the idea of juxtaposing those shapes in color,” Davis said.

Always another idea on the horizon, he generally moves from one piece directly to the next.  According to his website, along with featuring his collections in galleries, Davis has been commissioned by Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, private homes (for both inside and outside sculptures), and Good Samaritan Hospital in Brockton, MA.

His sculpture was a gift to NEC from three anonymous donors.  Furtkamp explained this is generally how the college acquires works of art (like the bronze sculpture on the front porch that was provided by two other supports).

This other work, by Artist Seward Johnson, celebrates the everyday—two painters actively at work— and was shipped from someone’s private collection in California. According to the artist’s website, it is one of 450 life-size bronze figures created by the artist that reside in both private collections and museums all over the US, Europe, and Asia.

Both new additions to the Lyon’s Center stand out in their own ways.  They’re very different in form and how they inspire the viewer, as abstract and realist art tend to be.  In the future, Furtkamp said the college hopes to add more pieces to the mix, as they envision a sculpture garden based around Davis’s NEC-inspired piece.

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