pictured: James Payne, Isolation (2020) at Shoreby Hill
Jamestown Arts Center celebrates its tenth anniversary with the Outdoor Arts Experience, a summer-long public art project featuring the work of nine artists and one yarn-bombing collective. The exhibit was concepted well before the pandemic, with an open call for artists closing over a year ago, but the timing actually worked in its favor since one can view all the work without having to venture indoors or into crowds. Not everything went exactly as planned, with two pieces postponed until next year because of pandemic-related logistical hiccups, but overall it’s just great to be able to look at new art again.
Seven of the ten works are located within a half mile of one another, from the lawns of the town library on North Road to the BankNewport by the ferry launch on Conanicus Avenue. You’ll want a car or a bike to access Godena Farm (about three miles north), the police station (near the Newport Bridge), and the fishing pier at the end of Fort Wetherill Road (about a mile and a half south of the others). I actually wish the works were scattered a little more widely across the island, because Jamestown is actually full of public spaces ripe for works like this.
On the other hand, the density is convenient because only some of these works really warrant a major detour. At the top of that list is Nicholas Benson’s fascinating @, on the lawn of the Town Hall. A slate carved with linguistically meaningless text forms, the piece resembles a tombstone that from a distance appears to be tagged with a spraypainted @ symbol, only with a capital A in its center. On closer reflection, you realize the form is actually carved into the slate, creating a mysterious and slightly sinister memorial to written text.
Just a few doors down is another favorite piece, Needles Galore’s colorful takeover of the lawn of the town library. Knit birds hang from trees, while yarn is stretched across metal forms to create a trio of life-sized sheep, in homage to the island’s history as a farming community. One of the sheep is wearing glasses, which for some reason makes the whole thing infinitely cooler, though I wish the forms were secured to the ground in a way that didn’t make the sheep seem shackled.
Outside of the downtown (“downtown”) area, Madeleine Lord’s steel fisherman is worth the trip to the end of Fort Wetherill Avenue. Across from the famed Moonrise Kingdom coves is a popular fishing spot, with Lord’s sculpture situated in the middle of a parking area. Reclaimed steel scraps make up both the life-sized fisherman and his net, the latter of which is painted white. Standing atop some concrete thing, he stands above everyone else. On Saturday morning the parking lot was full of actual fisherman, albeit the kind who use poles and not nets, but it’s nice to see the sculpture sited with respect to those who still make their living from the sea.
Lord’s sculpture is one of several that reference the ocean, which is perhaps to be expected from a public art exhibition on an island in the summer. Others include wave, Martin Keen’s glossy fiberglass sculpture; Marbelle, a marble-covered rowboat from outsider artist Sandy Sorlien; and Ana Flores’ Poetry of the Wild, a trio of mixed media stations that includes a stand of wooden oars in the middle of a dry field. I had never heard of Godena Farm before so this was my favorite discovery, a reclaimed piece of land that’s open to the public and filled with dozens of birdhouses. Flores’ stand includes a famous quote from Dr. Martin Luther King: “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.”
Maps are available at the Jamestown Arts Center (18 Valley Street, Jamestown) and online at outdoorartsexperience.org. Through October 31.