There’s a kind of magic in discovering a new piece of art or sculpture in a city, especially when it feels like it’s been there all along. If you’ve passed the bench sitting in front of the Peoples Bank Theatre in Downtown Marietta, you can likely relate. Beautifully sculpted from found objects welded in place, it feels like it belongs there, withstanding the tests of time. You may be surprised to know that it’s actually a rather recent addition to our downtown, funded by an Ohio Arts Council Creative Economy grant awarded to the Marietta Main Street Public Art Committee and the Hippodrome Colony Historical Theatre Association.
The brains behind the installation are local artists Geoff Shenkel and Todd Morrow of Resolve Studios in Harmar Village. Geoff and Todd have been working together for years, sharing a bond that goes much deeper than friendship. Watching them collaborate on a project is like peeking into the inner workings of the creative mind – concepts, details and inspirations are communicated with sketches, gestures and a few words. Geoff describes a vision and Todd welds it in place, as if they shared a moment of creative ESP. Their teamwork appears to be both effortless and ancient.
Several of the artists at Resolve are known for their resourceful use of found objects, so it is not surprising that the bench was envisioned in a similar style. Like previous projects, every object used is intentional and holds significance – the most obvious are the side panel from an old theater seat, and parts of vintage film reels. Looking closely, you can see the individual objects and guess at their former lives, but together, they are now alive as something new, serving a new purpose.
Why do they enjoy using found objects in their work?
“Todd and I were looking at old lumber, and talking about this just the other day,” explains Geoff. “We were working to build this truss/tree branch-like structure for the Clubhouse Exhibit. We were sorting lumber and studying the grain, looking closely at the pattern of holes where bolts and nails had once been. It’s a conscious process, but it’s a little bit like being in more than one place at once. There’s the here and now in which we have a show to put on, a deadline to meet, specific dimensions to be mindful of, and yet there’s another place very close to the board, like when you look at your own skin and really see it for what it is for the first time in a long time. It’s a little like the surface of the board, its textures, tones and colors are characteristics that are as close as our own skin and we are seeing it with new eyes it has opened for us.
So there’s the active part of making, mindful of budget and everyday things, and there’s also a part where we are waiting for the piece, or knot hole, or some other feature that plays with the greater structure in just the right way so as to achieve this kind of balance that feels more alive. You discover it and there’s an impulse to shout out, “Yes! We did it!” And “we” doesn’t end with Todd and I. It seems to include the board, and the person who gave it to us, and my grandad who was a wood worker and it’s like in that moment something opens and we are all there together and happy about it – even the board.
Part of this found object approach involves looking back, but it doesn’t stay only there, it also is looking forward and it seems to soar in the present moment. Making art on a fresh new canvas doesn’t conjure up that kind of energy exchange.”
It is clear that they do not take these relationships lightly. Each object has an identity and life all its own. Geoff elaborated on a favorite memory from working on the bench:
“It was a day we were discussing something that was hard and kind of upsetting. As we talked and listened, we continued working. I remember that we were about to thread a nut and bolt together and without a word, Todd took hold of one side and wordlessly took the other and in a flash the job was done, successful and whole – it felt close and sacred, and as if we were working right alongside everyone I’ve ever known. I associate that with grace. It feels elegant, dignified to experience.
It might sound strange but Todd talks about honor in these moment. We don’t want what craftsman from the past had – it’s not about recapturing or reliving that. Rather it feels more like extending what others started into realms not yet reached. ‘What’s next? Now what? What else is possible?’ Found objects seem to drive such questions and fuel something in us. We work with these objects, and it’s tempting to respond, ‘It was good to meet you. I’m happy to know you.’ And that includes all the hands that have touched the object and shaped its life before it came to us.”
I asked Geoff what he hopes for the bench in years to come.
“Watching someone set their coffee cup down on the arm of the bench just feels so good. I’d never considered a place for a coffee mug there but of course it works and what a great idea. The user of the bench extending its usefulness in new unplanned directions. That feels right. Not a controlled outcome, but not haphazardly accidental, either. When that balance is achieved, you can feel it. So now that the bench is complete, could you imagine it sitting in a shelter, a bus stop made in that same style? I’d love to see that happen in our C4 district, one on each side of the Muskingum – maybe near the theaters, and one on the West Side where the Harmar kids could see it and discover it just like people do with the bench downtown.”
To see more of the Resolve crew’s magic up close, I encourage you to visit the Parkersburg Art Center to explore the Clubhouse, an interactive art exhibit brought to life by the community of artists in partnership with Harmar Elementary School, Marietta Middle School and the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County. The exhibit fills more than 5,000 sq. ft. of the museum with a variety of imaginative interpretations of a clubhouse. The exhibit opens this Friday evening at 5:30pm and will be on display through September 25th.