Sabra Field mural dresses up theater

MIDDLEBURY — Vermont artist and Middlebury College alumna Sabra Field stood at the base of the Wright Theater building at her alma mater on Monday, observing the progress of the translation of her linocut print “Cosmic Geometry” into a mural on the eastern wall of the gray building.
The 16 squares of Field’s original print had been but half-applied by midday on Monday — the mural artists were still busily filling in with color what they had blocked out and traced onto the wall once the sun finally appeared over the weekend.
Field, 75, seemed pleased with the work — never before had she watched as her artwork was applied to the face of a building — stained-glass windows and hot air balloons, sure, but this was new. And yet, she was not exactly surprised by the effect of her art covering the wall.
“Kate knows how to do Photoshop,” Field explained. “She put the image up on the wall very early on, so I got very used to how it would translate big.”
Kate, or Kate Lupo, is a recent Middlebury College graduate who had — throughout her undergraduate career — imagined turning the back of Wright into a canvas. As she, too, watched the paint go up on the wall, Lupo was thrilled to see her vision become a reality.
“This is something I’ve been thinking about for awhile,” she said. “For all four years at Middlebury I would walk by this wall and say, ‘God, you know, this looks like a canvas.’ I thought there was a really great opportunity for a work of art to enliven this portion of campus which has become so dead ever since Atwater Dining Hall has closed down.”
Last fall, Lupo approached College President Ronald Liebowitz with a proposal to create a mural using Field’s art. Originally, Lupo had lobbied for Field’s “Windfarm Vermont,” a print that showed wind turbines on mountaintops. She hoped it would complement Middlebury’s emphasis on sustainable practices.
“My original proposal I took to President Liebowitz and he thought it was a great idea,” said Lupo. “Then I took it from there and called Sabra, who thought it was a good idea, and we sort of became collaborative partners.”
After gaining the support of both Liebowitz and of Field, Lupo drafted a proposal for the Committee on Art in Public Places, that included a stipulation that the mural be painted over in five years. In the process of writing the proposal, Richard Saunders, director of the college art museum, suggested that Lupo opt for another one of Field’s works, instead — one that would be a little less “in your face” with its environmental themes, Lupo explained.
“Richard was the one who sort of helped me identify ‘Cosmic Geometry’ as the right image for this wall and I really owe him for that awesome suggestion,” Lupo said.
Before presenting her revised proposal to the Middlebury College Committee on Art in Public Places, Lupo decided to approach the town. She first gave a copy of her plan to Town Planner Fred Dunnington and the town’s Design Advisory Committee.
“I showed them my idea and they really appreciated that I asked them about it because this is a wall that faces the town of Middlebury and it would be something that the town and the college will be living with for five years,” Lupo said.
According to Lupo, Dunnington and the rest of the committee responded very positively to the proposed mural.
“Everyone loved the fact that it was going to be a Sabra Field artwork, and everyone was very supportive,” she said. “I was very lucky. I conceived of this as something that would be enjoyed by not just the college, but by the town at large and then the whole Vermont community.”
Choosing a work by Field, she said, was a conscious part of this effort to link the town and college communities.
“We wanted to use a Sabra Field artwork because she is so well loved in the state,” Lupo said. “She’s such a well-loved artist — her artwork is all over campus here, and she’s a wonderful lady. I love the fact that we’re celebrating her and that she’s an alumni artist, graduated in the class of 1957.”
The series of 16 united prints is one of Field’s most recent works — and a good thing, too, according to Field.
“It was a recent enough piece that I was still enamored of it — otherwise they sort of drift off like old boyfriends, you know,” she said.
She still likes the work enough, she said, to be thrilled to see the two guys from Brooklyn mural-painting company Colossal Media hard at work up on the scaffolding, translating her image to Wright Theater as a result of Saunders’ and Lupo’s efforts.
“It’s her baby,” Field said. “She and Richard came up with the idea of using ‘Cosmic Geometry.’ … Once they suggested it, though, I thought, ‘great.’”
Tamara Hilmes is at [email protected].
Vt. artist draws inspiration from patterns in nature
MIDDLEBURY — Artist Sabra Field, who has been living in working in East Barnard since 1969, said that the ideas represented in her work “Cosmic Geometry” have long been in the works.
“The idea has been gestating for about 50 years, since I was in graduate school at Wesleyan University,” Field said.
She was first inspired after having discovered the work of Gyorgy Kepes, a Hungarian-American artist who worked in the late ’30s and ’40s.
“He was among the first of the mid-20th century people to understand that our vision of the universe had expanded hugely with photographic means,” Field explained.
And that expanded vision, Field said, was beginning to mesh with the phenomenon that we see at a human scale. Field chose to represent this expanded vision by comparing images of similar patterns found both in the human and natural worlds on both a small and large scale.
The mural consists of five groupings of images, or quartets, that are bound together by visual themes of spiraling, tiling, branching and scaling. In the upper left-hand corner, a spiral nebula complements the structural makeup of a chemical, enlarged in its Petri dish. To their right, a repetitious image of bubbles sidles up to a close-up of a patterned tortoise shell — inspired, Field said, by her run-in with a large tortoise in the Galapagos Islands years ago.
The lower left draws together the famous Italian Duomo and a leaf straight out of Field’s squash patch, and the lower right compares architect Frank Gehry’s Bilbao Guggenheim Museum with a Vermont hillside. Her orange hillside, which appears to have scales, is representative of unique algorithm.
“It describes what happens when you take a curve and then bisect it with another curve, and then bisect it with another curve — you end up with this kind of remarkable pattern which is a reflector for a Vermont hillside,” Field explained.
Though her organization of the images, and their relations to one another seem complex, the over-arching theme of her work is really quite simple, Field said.
“If I had to put it all into one, simple-minded sentence, it would be that everything is part of everything,” she said. “I could have picked hundreds of other examples and I probably eliminated dozens as the group coalesced in my mind.”

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