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Archive for October, 2013

WEIGHTY MATTERS

david

Did Italian sculptors of the Renaissance and Baroque eras alter their styles depending on whether a work was bound for just down the road in Florence or going across the Mediterranean to Spain? Did Michelangelo ever really believe that his David would be hoisted to a perch high on Florence’s cathedral?

The answer to the first question is yes. The local sculptures exhibited a delicacy and grace that was compromised when the artist knew his commission (often a gift to curry favor with a foreign power) would be crated, hoisted, and shipped out from the docks in Genoa. As for Michelangelo and the legendary David, most likely the artist never thought his work would or could be lifted to a fairly ridiculous location on il Duomo. As William Wallace, professor of art history at Washington University, put it: “There is no avoiding the tyranny of weight.”

“Italian Renaissance & Baroque Sculpture: Material, Manufacture, Meaning and Movement” was the title of an unusual day-long symposium held in Billings Library on Friday. Kelley Helmstutler Di Dio, associate professor of art history, was the driving force behind the event that brought experts together for what she called “a scholarly exchange about practical issues.”

While most of the day belonged to Italy, the Renaissance, and scholars, late in the afternoon sculptor and UVM alumnus Richard Erdman ’75 brought the perspective of a contemporary artist who has grappled on a very serious level with Italian marble and that unavoidable tyranny of weight. croppedimage198198-18-passage-final2Erdman’s work Passage, a commission for the Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens at PepsiCo in Purchase, New York, is the largest sculpture in the world made from a single piece of Travertine marble. Through a slideshow, Erdman told the story of how the stone was quarried in Tivoli, a 30-foot block weighing 450 tons, slimmed to 120 tons for a very slow four-day drive by truck to his studio in Italy, and finally, at a mere 45 tons, shipped to the United States then driven north through the streets of New York City in the wee-small hours.

A native of Vermont’s Rutland-area marble belt, working with stone is a lifelong passion for Erdman. “It’s the most life affirming of all materials,” he told the scholars and guests gathered at UVM last Friday, “250 centuries of living geology.”

Watch a slideshow on Richard Erdman’s site about the creation of Passage.

Read a 2003 Vermont Quarterly article about Richard Erdman.

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ALUMNI WIRE

photo-1Laura Bernardini ’95 recently won an Emmy Award for her work as one of the producers on CNN’s “Election Night in America.” Laura has been part of the CNN news team nearly since her UVM graduation and has covered major events from presidential campaigns to the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Chuck Ross ’78, Vermont’s secretary of Agriculture, Food, and Markets, has been named president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. Since the NASDA president traditionally hosts the annual conference, agriculture secretaries, commissioners, and directors from across the nation will gather together in Vermont next September for the 2014 annual meeting.

Vasu Sojitra ’13 is featured in a Backcountry Magazine piece that spotlights his skill as a backcountry skier despite having one leg. “I just center my leg over my body and lean forward with my arm and use that crutch as a pole, plant that and spin off it. To me right now, it doesn’t seem like a problem. I’ve gotten used to it,” he says. An abbreviated version of the article is available here with the full version featured in the print version of Backcountry.

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As “Free Bird” is to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, so is “The Lanyard” to a Billy Collins reading. There were no lighters held aloft in Ira Allen Chapel last evening or bellowed requests (truth be told: there was one, though not quite a bellow), but the former U.S. Poet Laureate is as close to rock star status as a poet can get these days. And he did, indeed, read “The Lanyard” to the delight of the fans who filled the chapel on a warm October evening for the Vermont Humanities Council event done in collaboration with UVM.BillyCollins

In his introductory remarks, Major Jackon, fellow poet and professor of English, said he’d dubbed the visit, which included meeting with UVM classes earlier in the day,  “The Billy Collins Cruise Ship.”  The poet’s talk, reading (of his own work and others), and Q and A was a pleasure cruise, welcoming and accessible (though Collins is weary of that word, more on that later). A few snapshots:

Speaking of his first exposure to poetry in school, Collins noted it was a form written by “men who were dead, had white beards, and three names.” Having none of those may have been an initial barrier, but he soon found his way to the “sound of clean, contemporary poetry.” Collins suggested poetry should be taught chronologically backwards, beginning with “seductive” contemporary poems. “Chaucer is a terrible place to begin.”

Collins spoke about his Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry anthology and his goal to help people—young people, in particular—discover or rediscover the pleasure in poetry. He described the too familiar scene of a literature class where students have read a poem, then sit with eyes cast to the floor, terrified they will be asked to explain the work. In Poetry 180, Collins gathered what he calls “first bounce” poems, those that can be appreciated on an initial reading. His hope is that the poems are simply read aloud, not taught, in schools so poetry becomes part of the atmosphere. “I’m a great advocate for poetry in public places,” he said, “a line of poetry dragged behind an airplane as they sometimes do in Florida.” He even took his case to Cosmopolitan and delivered his message with the publication’s standard recipe: “7 Sources of Pleasure in Poetry.”

As for that “A” word, Collins said that “accessible” does not mean simple. Rather, it means that a poem has “a portal that is clear and interesting to the point of being seductive.” What happens when a reader steps through that portal and commits to reading the poem is another story.

Fielding a question on process, Collins said that he writes a poem in one sitting, wanting to follow it through and see where it goes. He writes in a notebook with a pen or pencil, continually rewriting as he revises multiple times. “It is more refining than revising,” he said. “You should always be taking away in revision, not adding.”

On becoming a writer: Collins said it is not really a matter of choice. He referenced John Updike’s thought that his becoming a writer was a case of “being swallowed by a hobby.” Collins said, “You don’t make a decision. That would be a rather unwise decision. It overtakes you.”

On becoming a poet, in particular: Collins said it was simply the highest calling of literature. He shared what he’d recently told a novelist friend: “Poetry is a bird. Prose is a potato.”

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