Inspired By Residency In Iowa
American Artist Begins Exchange…
When U.S. Ambassador Her Excellency Nicole Avant led the press conference about the exhibition “Master Artists of The Bahamas” which opened at The Waterloo Center for the Arts in Iowa earlier this month, she expressed hope that this move would foster rich artistic cultural exchanges for the future.
The effect of that exhibition to create opportunities for exchange is already underway, for one Bahamian artist’s work impacted a young American artist so deeply that she’s made the trip to The Bahamas to spend this next month working by his side on a few major projects.
Sarah Deppe, a recent graduate of the University of North Iowa (UNI) in Studio Art in Sculpture, will be assisting Antonius Roberts on his new project for Baha Mar. In this project, he will train 12 aspiring craftsmen by creating beautiful benches out of discarded wood from the Baha Mar site, which will be used on West Bay Street and a future hiking trail.
“I like my artwork to have a strong environmental content, and I do this through using reclaimed materials and also for the overall theme of it to relate to the environment,” says Deppe, whose large form sculptures incorporate indigenous wood.
“I was interested in Antonius’ work and his use of reusing reclaimed materials and his connection to the environment because I do a lot of that in my work, and I wanted to come down here and see what he was doing,” she continues.
The pieces that so moved Deppe were three sculptures Roberts created during his week-long residency hosted by the Waterloo Center for the Arts that coincided with the “Masters of The Bahamas” exhibition opening and symposium.
During this residency, he worked with students in a “Sculpture I” class from the University of North Iowa on public art pieces crafted out of local material–salvaged wood and stone from Sans Souci Island in the center of Cedar River in Waterloo, Iowa, which was ravaged by a flood in 2008.
It was arranged by the WCA Curator Kent Shankle, who hailed from the island that is now slowly rebuilding from destruction.
“The state itself is serious about funding public art and using art in public spaces to unify the communities,” explains Roberts. “I never thought that I would be so inspired by going to a place like Iowa. But talk about diversification and tolerance and integration–I was moved.”
While he guided students on how to approach the material, Roberts himself created three poignant and inspiring sculptures out of the indigenous oak and cotton tree wood, adding in stainless steel to incorporate a bit of hardware and even a stone from the river itself.
The resulting pieces — “Mother Nature’s Wings” in which the wood is carved to reveal a pair of awe- inspiring angel wings; “Colors of Sans Souci Island” in which a large river stone sits at the base of a hollow in a tall narrow piece of wood, evoking a powerful totem; and “Embrace” in which two pieces of wood which had been split apart from the disaster were brought back together again–tapped into powerful emotions about the event shared by the community.
“The wood was so beautiful and basically I just celebrated the natural shapes and forms that revealed themselves through the process,” says Roberts.
“‘Embrace’ has this feeling like that missing piece is being received back again and that piece is significant to me because what it represents to me is the fact that through all the negative impact of the flood, the human spirit rose above the water and it was through the human spirit that people reached out and helped each other,” he continues. “So that piece symbolized that whole spirit of community.”
He donated the three pieces to the WCA at the end of the week and returned home to The Bahamas–but Iowa was not finished with him yet.
Soon thereafter, Deppe — who had been away during the opening of “Master Artists of The Bahamas” and Roberts’ residency — returned and upon seeing the three moving pieces which reminded her of her own work, contacted Roberts to ask if she could spend some time with him in The Bahamas.
Funnily enough, she had been mentioned to Roberts already by a professor at UNI.
“He approached me after viewing my work and said he had a student who I should meet,” remembers Roberts. “I didn’t think anything of it but during the farewell reception, he came up to me and gave me this packet of her work and said he wanted me to look at it. When I saw her work I thought, you know what, she’s serious.”
Indeed, though she only touched down in Nassau on Sunday, Deppe has already completed sketches for some benches she hopes to work on with Roberts on the Baha Mar project and even some sketches on a larger sculpture they will be collaborating on for Roberts’ new studio space downtown.
“She will bring her own twist to it,” says Roberts.
“I’d love to show that connection because the whole interest in recycling and respect for nature is a universal one, is a global dialogue, and to have her here actually means that we are engaged in this conversation globally.”
Meanwhile she may work on other independent projects as she’s staying with a community of artists at Popopstudios International Center for the Visual Arts–and hopefully may lead a discussion of her work at the end of the month-long stay.
“The people at Popop are great and very welcoming,” she says.
“There’s a very nice community there and all around in the arts. There’s a lot I think I can learn from them.”
“I want to learn from Antonius and everyone here, how he makes his artwork and the materials he uses. I want to also have more experience with materials that are related to nature.”
Meanwhile, Roberts himself is excited about what the month holds, looking forward to continuing a significant cultural exchange started in a place as unexpected as Waterloo, Iowa, U.S.A.
“I love to share and I open up to people that I am interested in mentoring. And this young lady from far off decided to want to come and take advantage of it and learn more,” he says. “So for me that’s rewarding and hopefully this will inspire others to step up and show that they are serious.”
The Nassau Guardian
Arts & Culture
Published: November 5, 2011