Christopher Curtis, a partner in West Branch Gallery & Sculpture Park in Stowe, recently installed one of his sculptures on the University of Vermont grounds.
Entitled “Unlocked,” the stone sculpture was created in 2008 out of a Vermont granite boulder extracted from Groton, and was purchased by art collectors Stephen and Petra Levin a year later.
The Levins have a second home in Stowe, and have been avid collectors of Curtis’ work since 2005.
The president of UVM, Thomas Sullivan, has begun a campaign to place public art on campus. Last month, the Levins donated “Unlocked” to UVM’s permanent collection.
Curtis picked it up from their property, cleaned it, and delivered the stone puzzle piece himself.
Puzzles, for some reason, seem to resonate with people in “more ways than I ever imagined as an artist,” Curtis said.
“Unlocked” was actually Curtis’ first in a series of carved-stone puzzle pieces.
He also makes all of his pieces from raw boulders rather than from quarried rocks.
“I think of stones not only as material, but as natural objects,” Curtis said. That makes the discovery, selection and recovery of the stones an important part of the process. Curtis has studied the geologic history of the area, following glacial paths and inland seas in search of stones with stories that he hopes will resonate with the pieces they ultimately become.
The particular boulder used in “Unlocked” is about 350 million years old, and Curtis says it is humbling to know that, even though he has reshaped it, the boulder will last thousands more years.
“My art is partly about the natural world, and partly about man’s place within it. This piece is not an objective sculpture — it’s not trying to be anything — but you can look at it and know that it’s a puzzle piece.”
Sullivan said UVM wants to populate its campus with public art, particularly near its historic buildings, and will be adding four pieces this summer; Curtis’ was the first.
He’s talking with potential donors of both money and art to get “internationally renowned, eye-popping public sculpture on campus.”
Why? College is a remarkable time of intellectual and social development, and “art is so important for students to begin to appreciate and understand part of the meaning of life,” Sullivan said. “It’s critically important for our students to be introduced to the arts, whether visual art or the broader arts, such as ballet or music or theater, to explore the purpose and meaning of life — the deeper questions. I want them to see it daily and stop and pause and say, “Isn’t that interesting? What does that mean?” and have it resonate for them.”
Like many of Curtis’ works, the deeper meaning of “Unlocked” is up to interpretation, which he says is perfect for a college campus.
Campuses are innately intellectual places, and abstract art only is what it is. However, it also makes people think and have conversations about what else it might represent, he said.
Much of Curtis’ current work is in stone, although he often incorporates welded stainless steel or bronze as well.
Curtis says he is “nuts about rocks” and has collected stones his whole life. “Geology is really interesting, especially when you cut into rocks that are half a billion years old, and realize that you are cutting into a big part of history.”
Humans, as a species, are self-centered, according to the artist, who said it is nice to reflect on things that are bigger than the human race — such as meteors, which are not just streaks of light in the sky.
“Deeper consideration of the world around us would be healthy for society,” Curtis said.
As an alumnus of UVM, Curtis said he is honored to have his work be part of the university’s permanent art collection.