Stick Man by Bruce Marshall

"Stickman of China" was made from driftwood collected in Vermont rivers.

Dragon Stone by Bruce Marshall

Beyond the "Dragon Stone" is a poem in Chinese calligraphy.

Bruce Marshall at his BAMS office desk

Bruce Marshall at his BAMS office desk

The Wall, The Stick Man & The Dragon Stone

Painting by Ken Ahlering

"Great Walls"

During the summer of 2008, eleven educators from southern Vermont spent three weeks in China as part of a cultural exchange and homestay program offered through The Experiment in International Living, funded by the Freeman Foundation. The group was to serve as Vermont ambassadors to China and, upon their return to the U.S.A., promote better understanding and appreciation for Asian culture. One participant, Bruce Marshall, a secretary at Brattleboro Area Middle School, decided he could best achieve that goal by means of a mixed-media art installation at the school.

In the school foyer, three mixed-media sculptures greet students, staff, and visitors with a distillation of Bruce's China experience. In his barn studio, Bruce used barnboard, driftwood, bone, found objects, and stone to fashion "Great Walls." The piece is a visualization of the Great Wall of China and a reflection on the nature, purpose, and success of walls in general. A second piece, "Stickman of China", recreates images of heavily-laden baskets attached to opposite ends of a stick, balanced across the shoulders of a Chinese laborer toiling in a small village setting. This stickperson is actually made of driftwood from the rivers of Vermont, and the yoke baskets are filled with driftwood sticks inscribed with both Chinese and English phrases and vocabulary useful to a visitor to China. Near the Stick Man is a papercut portrait of the painter Qi BaiShi that was brought back from China by Bruce.

From Vermont, Bruce brought five stones to China to leave in different places as stone mobiles, aesthetically marking with respect the landscape he visited. From China, he brought back stone to Vermont (resulting in his baggage search at the airport) as a memory of the stone left in China. The "Dragon Stone" is a mobile fashioned using that stone from China to represent the five hanging stones left in China. In Chinese tradition, five is the number of the natural elements: earth, water, metal, wood, and fire.

Near the Dragon Stone is a piece of framed calligraphy art inscribed to Bruce as a gift of friendship by his Chinese homestay host when he was staying in Xian. Calligraphy in Chinese culture is seen aesthetically as art in itself. The writing is a poem by Wang Zhi-Huan from the Tang Dynasty (7th to 9th centuries) entitled "Climbing the Guan Que Pagoda." In translation:

Daylight is ending with a line of mountains.
The Yellow River rushes to the sea.
Desiring to see a thousand miles,
To reach higher, take another step.

The deeper meaning of this poem is to encourage everyone never to give up, to keep climbing up and up and move forward.

The Wall, the Stick Man, and the Dragon Stone are designed to illicit more questions than answers, to direct others toward their own special journeys, but most of all, to inspire us to learn from and share with our neighbors around the world.

Under the auspices of the Asian Cultural Center of Vermont, the installation of Marshall's trip-inspired artwork continues at the C.X. Silver Gallery, 814 Western Ave., W. Brattleboro, through Sunday, Oct. 12. Open daily 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. by appointment (802-257-7898) or chance.

NOTE: Bruce will give a public presentation on his installation and his experiences in China on Tuesday, Oct. 7, at 6:30 at the C.X. Silver Gallery. The event is free.

Copyright 2008, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont

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