Outdoor exhibit takes viewers on a walk with poetry and art

MIDDLEBURY — Pinecones hang like bells from a branch. A birch bark globe trimmed with sumac twists in the breeze. Other pieces of sculpture are tucked just off the Middlebury trail — a wrapped figure eight of grape vines, a discarded snack food wrapper garnished with a sprig of white pine.
And the whole walk is sprinkled with poems, paintings and photography hanging in in waterproof cases .
All of this is part of “Autumn Wood: a Forest Renga,” an art installation curated by Middlebury resident Rachel Baird. The art will be up until Oct. 27 at the Trail Around Middlebury off Route 30 just south of the golf course.
Pieces of eco-sculpture mix with written work on the eighth-of-a-mile section of trail between Route 30 and Route 125, dropping west from the road into a forested hollow.
“Autumn Wood” is a variation on the Japanese style of collaborative poetry called renga. The piece includes work from more than 20 participating Vermont poets and artists, including Middlebury College students, faculty and alumnus.
“A renga is like a conversation in poetry,” Baird said. “I wrote the seed poem and asked for written and visual responses.”
Baird organized the poems and art to hang on the trail, then added eco-art with a group of friends.
“It starts in a very contemplative mood, then gets a little darker as you drop down, and finishes on an ecstatic note,” Baird said. “It also captures the changing qualities of autumn, from September to November.”
The eco-art isn’t labeled, and you have to look hard to find some pieces. The human pieces are unexpected, but there are a lot of unexpected things about the natural environment, too — bark fungi, mossy chunks of limestone and fallen leaves.
“That’s the thing about eco-art. It blends in and you might not see it at first, but it asks you to look more deeply,” Baird said. “Eco-art is subtle. It has its own architecture.”
Baird and a group of artists spent Oct. 7 and 8 foraging for natural objects and assembling them into pieces of eco-sculpture. There’s a rock wedged into a split tree, a wrap of orange fencing, red berries and an intricate altar. The sculpture is so impermanent that Baird’s been back to check on it after every gusty night.
“It’s been a really magical section of trail for me. It’s between the highways, but when you’re in there it just feels like forest,” she said. “Last week I found a snake on the altar. This is all about looking deeper, past the obvious surfaces. You can look at the altar and not see the snake, but eco-art requires you to see things deeply.”
Charmingly, the installation covers only a short section of TAM, and walking the remainder of the Class of ’97 trail is a new experience after interacting with the renga. The search for art among twisted branches and fallen bark sensitizes a viewer to natural patterns.
“The forest is already full of art and poetry,” Baird said. “We’re just interpreting it through our creativity.”
Autumn Wood is listed as a destination in this year’s final Middlebury Arts Walk, though Baird doesn’t want to draw attention away from the center of town. Middlebury has hosted a summer Arts Walk for three years, showing local artists’ work in downtown shops on the second Friday of each month.
The walk includes work from primary and secondary school  students to established artists like Middlebury College professor emeritus David Bumbeck, who donated an etching to the Arts Walk that will be raffled off next month. The print is called “Homage” and is valued at $1,250. Tickets are $5 each or $20 for five, and can be purchased at Otter Creek Custom Framing, which donated the frame for Bumbeck’s etching. The Arts Walk will hold a dinner and raffle drawing in November.
“We’re trying to put art in everyday life. Everywhere you’d normally go, there’ll be art on display,” Baird said. “But the Arts Walk is only one evening. ‘Autumn Wood’ will be up all month. We want people to know that art isn’t over after the Arts Walk.”
layout professional: please run this in a box sitting inside the story or adjacent. Thanks –john mc
Autumn Wood poets and artists
Rachel Baird – Artist/Poet
John Elder – Poet
Geoff Hewitt – Poet
Frank Asch – Artist/Poet
Sue Ellen Thompson – Poet
Graziella Weber-Grassi – Artist
Gary Lindorff – Poet
Ying Lei Zhang – Artist/Poet
Jan Asch – Artist/Poet
Mirabelle Ross – Poet
Rachel Rosenburg – Poet
Joey Radu – Poet
Shirley Oskamp – Poet
Kirsten Hoving – Photographer
Suki Fredericks–Poet/Photographer
Deborah Klee – Artist
Diane Curran – Artist/Poet
Melissa Chestnut-Tangerman–Poet
Nancy Parsons – Artist
Julia Pipiras – Artist
Dusty Thrash – Artist

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