WILLIAMSTOWN – They stand, 12 silent sentries, watching over the earth.
In this field they witness the blowing wind, the falling rain, the stars in the night sky. They watch fireflies flutter in the dark of night and watch over the bobolinks that nest in the tall grass of the Field Farm Reservation, 316 preserved acres overseen by The Trustees of Reservations.
This is where the slender, androgynous 9-foot-tall reinforced concrete sculptures of sculptor and mixed media artist Rose B. Simpson will rise, along the lawn’s horizon line, visible from Sloan Road, albeit on April 30, 2023. his most ambitious work to date, “Counterculture”, honors generations of marginalized people and cultures, whose voices have too often been silenced by colonization and, in many cases, forcibly removed from their homelands.
“I played with this idea of being a witness, of being a witness; as we look deeply into so many subjects, everything we experience,” said Simpson, during a recent interview in the lawn at the foot of his sculptures. “How can we look deeper and deeper into these topics?
“This piece, initially, was about a kind of post-apocalyptic landscape for indigenous peoples. So, they are witnesses to that really difficult story. [of colonization] … these could be located anywhere on this planet and would continue, in a sense, to oversee that difficult story. “
And this piece, she said, is about personal growth, for her and her audience.
“A lot of my job is to teach myself how to slow down and question every moment, question the things I think I know, that I am sure of. I’m wondering, the things they tell me are true, those stories and perspectives and look deeper into any situation, ”said Simpson. “As I work to find it within me, I hope that the things I accomplish in the investigation of my personal evolution and growth become opportunities for other people to see it in themselves.”
The eyes of each sculpture are deliberately left empty: holes that show the sky and land behind them.
“The eyes go through, the shape, all the way to the back of the head, to wake them up somehow. They’re watching,” he said. “We were out there on the ladder the other day putting on the necklaces and I could see the wind go by as the dust came out of the eye. It made me realize that the wind actually hisses through the eye, that there is. so many layers of what is watching you. We generally forget that we are held accountable or accountable by forces that we forget they have power over us. “
Simpson, who traditionally works with clay, first created three figures as clay marquettes. He then made full-scale wooden models there, pine he sculpted with a chainsaw. The finished pine pieces were then shipped to Sculpture House Casting in New York City, where the 12 sculptures were cast into concrete.
It’s the first time, he said, that anyone else has cast his work. Seeing the sculptures – like a dozen concrete statues of various colors and individual personalities – for the first time, slowly rising above the horizon as he drove on Sloane Road, was a moment of pause, Simpson said.
“When I first saw them, driving up the hill – they didn’t have the necklaces yet, but they had already been standing in the line they were in – I pulled over. I just had to swallow. It’s really, really powerful. see them, “he said. “I made these originals and then I put myself in the hands of someone else. Seeing my work in this way is my first experience. And I am learning a lot from that. I am trying to make room for the power that I feel it and the immense strength I witness, as well as this reflection in these pieces. I don’t know if I’m worthy, those parts of me that really feel small and insignificant have to grow to accept it. It’s a great moment of growth. “
Originally designed for the Holmes reserve in North Plymouth, another property of The Trustees, “Counterculture”, was moved to Field Farm after the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe objected to having art from another tribe on their ancestral land. Simpson, 38, a registered member of the Santa Clara Pueblo (Khaʼpʼoe Ówîngeh) in New Mexico, and The Trustees deferred to the tribal sovereignty of the Wampanoag, choosing instead to transfer the work to Williamstown.
In this case, Field Farm is part of the ancestral home of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, the Muh-he-con-ne-ok (People of the Waters That Never Stand), who now reside in Wisconsin after being forcibly transferred numerous times. The Mohican / Munsee lands spanned six states, from southwestern Vermont, to portions of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including the entire Hudson River Valley and western Massachusetts and northwestern Connecticut, to the Connecticut River Valley.
“This project would not be possible without the Stockbridge-Munsees,” said Jamilee Lacy, guest curator of The Trustees of Reservations’ Art & Landscape 2022 program, during an opening celebration at the Field Farm.
Changing the position of the sculptures, from a strip of land near the ocean to the woods and meadows of the Berkshires, was not so much a challenge as an adaptation for Simpson, who received his MFA in ceramic from the Rhode Island School of Design. in Providence and is part of the collective exhibition “Ceramics in the Expanded Field”, at Mass MoCA.
“When I first came here, this was an unknown turf for me. I am always inspired by a new environment and mostly because I love that sense of wonder when I don’t know who these trees are, what kind of grass they are, what these are. flowers are. I don’t really know. I don’t know what poison ivy looks like, for example. And so I feel really naive. I feel so innocent and I’m in a state of wonder in this environment. ” she said.
“And so I feel like a visitor and I want to walk respectfully and I have to. I don’t know who this tree is. I don’t know what that plant is. I don’t know how it will affect me. And so I approach with caution but also care and respect. I am introduced and I have seen these pieces here in this field, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life, I kept thinking what an honor to be here more than any building, any piece of architecture I can imagine, that this field is the greatest honor I could imagine and that these pieces can last the seasons and observe this place so deeply and so long. sitting by the birds. They can look at the stars, spend the night, they get silence, they get wind, they can, you know, they can watch the animals crawl through the grass. “
As part of the exhibit, Simpson will bring the clay, gathered around the sculpture stands, to Wisconsin, where he will make beads with community members, which will be added to the necklaces that will be brought back and added to the sculptures.
It’s a small way, he said, to connect the Stockbridge-Munsees with their ancestral lands.
It is good to start thinking about what we can do to have repairs, to bring them home, to see it not only as an interesting thing, but as a call to action – as an invitation to heal, as an invitation to come home and feel these mountains in your soul, let the ancestors welcome you. Their ancestors are still walking here, ”Simpson said.
“What would it be like to be ripped from them like that?” He asked. “I can’t even imagine. I have the privilege of living in my ancestral lands, where my story is so-so, so deep there in my backyard, in my backyard in mine, my family still living around me. Not ‘no, I don’t have that experience the same way. “
She is confident that a job like hers will spark conversations that will help bring healing; help bring the Mohicans back to their homelands.
“I wonder how we can start bringing awareness,” he asked, saying it’s as simple as saying, “‘Hey, you need to access your ancestral and healing waters. How can we make that happen? at home, where you can pray, where you can commune with your ancestors. ‘
“It’s key, we have somewhere to listen to go and ask for directions and listen to what they have to say, instead of asking for answers across states. That distance between them, it’s really hard. We can start looking for ways we can give back a little bit. of land to those people and start reporting their presence.
“I can tell the earth wants it. The earth is calling its people.”
For more information on “Counterculture” and related programming, visit thetrustees.org/exhibit/counterculture/