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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

A Rock and A Good Place

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Thursday, August 11, 2005

Workers install Don Gummer's "Primary Separation" sculpture on Marshall Street on Aug. 11.
North Adams – Artist Don Gummer’s “Primary Separation” sculpture, described with most basic terms, is about 43,000 pounds of rock split in half and suspended above the earth by 20 cables attached to upright stainless steel pipe. A construction project of sorts was required to install the art at the T. William Lewis Building on Marshall Street; the installation was, for the most part, completed yesterday.

Gummer sees the work as both point and counterpoint; question carved in stone.

“The beginning of everything starts with separation,” Gummer said as he watched muscled workers and a crane maneuver the massive sculpture into place. “Life begins with cells separating; even the world came from separation, from the ‘big bang.’”

So is division the sculpture’s focus?

That is a question for observers to debate for themselves, said Gummer.

“That’s the question,” he said. “Is it being pulled apart or coming together? That will be up to the individual interpretation.”

The massive sculpture is rooted in art Gummer created during 1969, when he himself felt emotionally divided and the nation was split in controversy over the Vietnam War.


Artist Don Gummer stands in front of his "Primary Separation" sculpture.
“I felt divided; I was living away from home and on my own,” he said. “The country was involved in the Vietnam War and it was divided.”

Divisions of some kind mark nearly all walks of life on a daily basis, and the country is again divided by war, Gummer said.

“Now we are in Iraq, and the country is red state, blue state [politically Republican or Democrat], all that,” he said.

Gummer is a Kentucky native who attended high school in Indiana and the School of Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and earned a master’s degree in fine art at the Yale University School of Fine Arts in New Haven, Conn.. Gummer’s resume of one-man and group exhibitions covers a host of venues and nearly three decades. He is married to actress Meryl Streep

The sculpture is meant to visually link the Northern Berkshire District Court courthouse with the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Both sites were at one time part of the sprawling Sprague Electric Co. complex. One might suggest that the sculpture brings together two buildings separated by time, change, and the busy street that slices between them.

Erecting and installing the piece required the expertise of fabricators and riggers. Jim Jolly of the Newburgh, N.Y. Polich Art Works firm was among the workers who worked from staging and from the ground to set the sculpture. A crane was used to hoist the stone halves about 10 feet into the air and aid with positioning, said Jolly.

“The center of gravity was very important to this installation,” Jolly said. “Everything was hinged on the center of gravity for this.”

The process from planning to installation took about eight months, Jolly said. The setting of the sculpture required one week. Heavy-duty stainless steel pipes help the cables stabilize the rock sections, and the cables will require periodic inspection and maintenance, Jolly said. Snow and ice buildup is not expected to harm the sculpture or damage the cables, he added.

Precise placement of the rock sections was integral to the sculpture installation.


A concrete plaza will be built around the sculpture and grass will be planted directly beneath the piece, Gummer said. Plans call for the sculpture to be illuminated at night. A formal sculpture dedication ceremony is planned for October.

Mass MoCA Director Joseph C. Thompson commissioned the work specifically for the courthouse grounds, and that is when Gummer began to create the sizeable work that duplicates the original and much smaller model. Having his work commissioned as a permanent part of MoCA makes Gummer feel pretty darn good, he said.

“This just might make me happy for the rest of my life.”

Information about Don Gummer is available at www.dongummer.com.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.net or at 802-823-9367.

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