A Pretty Park Can Be Pretty Hard To Find

Back in 1981 the Philadelphia Museum Of Art mounted an exhibition of photographs by Robert Adams. Adams took the photos in the 1970s. They were images of western American states, the desolate areas, primarily deserts and mountains. I remember the show fairly well. No matter how remote the locale, nearly every photograph bore evidence of man’s hand: A telephone pole, tire ruts in the sand, roads winding like barber pole stripes around magnificent mountains. One of Adams’s points was that pure wilderness is long gone, so we better get used to it and be glad for the great though adulterated spaces that exist. I imagine that even if you found yourself in the middle of Antarctica’s biggest ice shelf, and I don’t wish that fate on too many of us, you wouldn’t have to wait impossibly long before an airplane passed overhead. Man is everywhere. Yikes.

Now, a half-baked embryonic distillation of those thoughts was in my head recently when my wife Sandy suggested that we walk around the grounds of Abington Art Center, a few miles south of our home in the Philadelphia suburbs. “Sure,” I said, “good idea.” But what I didn’t say is that I’d prefer to stroll some expansive Adams-like terrain. In my dreams. Around here in the burbs, man for the last 75 years has been relentlessly busy cutting down trees and pouring cement. Around here, you have to count your lucky stars that any good-looking patches of territory of any sort still exist.

Manor house and lawn at Abington Art Center.
Manor house and lawn at Abington Art Center.

Abington Art Center is one of those patches. The center contains the manor house and some of the grounds of a former estate. The house is used for art classes and gallery exhibits and the like. The grounds mostly are a huge lawn that slopes away from the rear of the house and 10 or 15 acres of woods. It’s a lovely place. And it is more than manor, grass and trees. Scattered here and there on the great lawn and on side lawns and in the woods are all manner of sculptures, about 50 all told. Sandy and I had a good time at the center. For two hours we looked at trees and artworks and burned off a few calories while walking a couple of miles.

The play of light in the woods at Abington Art Center.
The play of light in the woods at Abington Art Center.

I like the outdoors. But I’m hardly a naturalist. My knowledge of flora and fauna has more holes than you can count. And so at Abington Art Center I found myself admiring a specific leafy tree species, of which many examples exist in the center’s tiny forest, having no clue what I was looking at. They weren’t maples or oaks. Those I can identify. Whatever the trees were, they were  the tallest at the center. They measured well over 100 feet from bottom to top and didn’t wander leftward or rightward on their way towards the heavens. Their mothers must have told them from an early age to stand up straight. What also fascinated me was the play of light within the woods, how one tree’s upper reaches might be caught by the day’s intense sun, while others only a few feet away were out of the sun’s direct path. Contrasts of this sort always have appealed to me.

Mazzaroth is Alison Stigora's construction of burnt tree branches.
Mazzaroth is Alison Stigora’s construction of burnt tree branches.

The sculpture I thought the most of in the woods was Alison Stigora’s Mazzaroth. It’s an assemblage of burnt tree branches fitted together tightly to portray . . . what? A serpent? The movement of time? As the years go on, Mazzaroth will crumble and become one with the forest floor, as will the trees surrounding it.

You’re not going to confuse many of the sculptures at Abington Art Center with creations by David Smith, Louise Nevelson or other deservedly famed artists. Few if any are on that level. Some though, like Mazzaroth, had me looking them over from different angles because I liked them a lot. Take two on the great lawn, for instance. They are placed near each other and are as different as they can be.

Cabin Van Gogh at Abington Art Center.
Cabin Van Gogh at Abington Art Center.
Partial view of bed and table inside Cabin Van Gogh.
Partial view of bed and table inside Cabin Van Gogh.

What is a lopsided small wooden cabin doing on the grass at Abington? Well, it’s a whimsical piece of art and is right at home there. Weather-beaten, cute and loveable, it contains within, of all things, a bed, chair and table lifted straight out of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings of his bedroom in Arles, France. This work is Knox Cummin’s Habitation Suite: Cabin Van Gogh. Vincent I believe would have been charmed  by Cummin’s idea to build such an unlikely homage, and also by the view of foliage from the cabin’s open back side.

David Schafer's orange sculpture at Abington Art Center.
David Schafer’s orange sculpture at Abington Art Center.

Uphill from the cabin stands what looks a bit like a lifeguard tower painted in bright orange, some of its support slats atilt. David Schafer, the creator, named his piece Untitled Expression: How to Look at Sculpture. I suspect that the notions behind the giddy orange tower are partly conceptual. Sculptures, like just about anything, are multifaceted. No need to try and pin down a precise meaning. Observe, surmise and enjoy. One of my takes, subject to change, is that the sculpture is alive yet indecisive, that it is shaking out its stiff bones and readying to inch forward but hasn’t gotten into gear quite yet. And what’s going on with that public address system speaker? I remembered later that it had a practical purpose once, as a recorded message played from it for months after the sculpture was first installed about six years ago. Sandy and I were at Abington Art Center at that time and heard the message. If we were put into a deep hypnotic state, maybe we’d recall what the message was. Gone silent, to me the speaker now just looks cool.

(All photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on any photo, a larger image will open)

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8 thoughts on “A Pretty Park Can Be Pretty Hard To Find

  1. Joyce August 12, 2015 / 7:57 am

    Try Pennypack Preserve for a Jane Austen experience . Acres and acres of woods, fields,horses, birds, wildflowers etc. This is a real jem.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Aunt Beulah August 12, 2015 / 10:12 pm

    I so enjoyed taking this walk with you. It I ever make it to your city, I know where I’ll head. I tramp around quite a bit in the west’s isolated, barren stretches; and I never explore one without finding plastic sacks stuck to sage brush, tumbleweeds, and juniper trees. Ugh. I pack them out, but they will be reproduced in no time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger August 13, 2015 / 12:40 pm

      I saw a TV report last year about a country in Africa (I forget which one) that has banned plastic bags. The USA and other countries should do the same, I think.


  3. Elizabeth M. Soltan August 13, 2015 / 8:55 am

    I haven’t been to the Abington Art Center in several years. Your comments and the accompanying photos show I need to get back. Looks as if your campaign to spend more time outside has led to some interesting art excursions. Is the Brandywine Art Museum or that sculpture garden near Trenton next?

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger August 13, 2015 / 12:43 pm

      Right, those would be good places to visit. I haven’t been to either in many years.


  4. Dan Doffs August 13, 2015 / 2:03 pm

    Hey – great blog! Since you’re always looking for good new music thought I’d turn you on to a guy i heard recently — here’s his blog — allanbullington.com — really good songs.


    Liked by 1 person

  5. yeahanotherblogger August 13, 2015 / 4:31 pm

    Thanks. I’ll check him out.

    Dan, sign up to “Follow” my blog. I need all the followers I can get!


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