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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

The Saga of “Mr. Goodbody”

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, October 28, 2005

Artist Richard Criddle and his "Deskatcular" artwork titled "Mr. Goodbody" [Photo courtesy of Richard Criddle]
North Adams – Long before becoming a sculptor and decades prior to accepting a MASS MoCA post as director of fabrication and installation, Richard Criddle was a schoolboy receiving – or enduring - a “good provincial English education” at a secondary-modern school in England.

According to Criddle, his classroom was not a place of light-hearted learning.

The "Monster" Cometh

An artist’s statement focused on his artistic contribution to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts “Deskatcular” art exhibit describes his school-day memories:

“The boys’ secondary-modern school that I attended from the age of eleven to seventeen was a strange place, a mixture of old and new buildings in a predominantly working class area. It was staffed by an odd assortment of ‘fossils’ who specialized in the finer points of indoctrination, intimidation, victimization, and sadism.”

One instructor in particular had a knack for bringing his pupils to the point of near terror, according to Criddle’s artist statement.

“I sat at desks with iron legs [useful for wrapping your numbed fingers around after you’d received a whacking across both hands]. I carved my marks into the history of their grainy surface. For years I wore out the elbows of my blazer, leaning onto the lid whilst gazing at the patterns of the raindrops on the windowpane.”

And then the moment of truth, when the teacher’s eyes would fall upon a daydreaming youth:

“Criddle! You boy! You miserable specimen!”

“He snapped his fingers loudly, smashed his fist down on the lid of his own desk and simultaneously lowered his crippled leg with a thump upon the wooden classroom floor. He knew we all called him ’Peg’ behind his back. The man was a monster, the very thing my worst nightmares are still made of.”

“He moved between the rows of other desk, fellow pupils frozen, heads down, so glad when he had passed,

The monster was coming straight for me.”

"Desktacular"

Criddle is one of a dozen area artists creating original works of art from old desks discovered during a MCLA renovation of the 110-year-old Murdock Hall. Joining Criddle with the creative expression project are artists Kate Bae, Danny O, Ven Voisey, Sean Riley, Nick Zammuto, Edward Cating, Laura Christiansen, Greg Scheckler, David Lachman, Debora Coombs and Carolyn Ryder Cooley.

The pieces are set for exhibit from Nov. 3 to Dec.1 at the MCLA Gallery 51 art gallery at 51 Main St., and the "Desktacular" desks are destined for auction to benefit MCLA Fine and Performing Arts curriculum scholarships. The public is invited to a 5 p.m. Nov. 3 exhibit opening; on Dec. 1 a desk auction will highlight a celebratory event marking the exhibit’s close.

Sh-h-h, It Was A Secret

Danny O, known for his ink-and-tape-crafted depictions and a unique collage art style that relies on discarded bits of paper, is incorporating collage art into his two-desk artwork. His rendition is based on a “Spy vs. Spy” cartoon popularized by MAD magazine, he said during a recent interview.

He’s been able to see some of the desks-in-progress, Danny O said.

“I’ve seen a couple of these at mid-point and they are great,” he said.

At the time of the interview, Danny O had not seen Criddle’s work and said that Criddle seemed to be keeping his art away from prying eyes. The hint of secrecy generated anticipation among other artists and generated an elevated level of enthusiasm for their own designs, he said.

“People like Richard and Ven [Voisey], they’re making everyone pull out the stops,” Danny O. said. “They kind of raised the bar.”

When asked if his work was meant to be kept under wraps until the exhibit opening, Criddle answered “I suppose I was keeping it a secret.”

His private studio is his artistic domain, Criddle said.

“Not too many people get into my studio, and that’s where I’m working on the project.”

But when a person lives and works in a small, artistic locale, secrets are hard to keep, he said.

“It’s a small creative community that’s really blossoming,” he said. “People talk, and it’s kind of like I’m Frankenstein building the monster.”

Starting Point

“Desktacular” was drawn from previous public art showcases such as Pittsfield’s “Sheeptacular” and the Bennington, Vt. “MooseFest,” according to information provided by MCLA. In both cases, seemingly benign statues of sheep and moose were turned over to area artists and painted, polished, and clear-coated into original and eye-catching art forms.

Whether sheep, moose, or an old desk, the items serve as starting points for the artists, Criddle said. While the artists involved with the animal statute projects did have to consider the art’s ultimate outdoor placement, the desk project won’t be exposed to the elements.

“We do have the advantage of being indoors,” he said.

Criddle said that his reputation as an artist is that of a “hit, whack it, weld it kind of sculptor.”

His “Mr. Goodbody” is made from the desk’s wood and metal parts as well as glass.

“This is about as ‘mixed’ as mixed medium can get,” he said. “I think of this as a dialogue. The teacher is made of desk pieces, and I use crutches, he’s got teeth and he has claws. [Mr. Goodbody] is a monster and [the instructor] was a demon, so the desk project has given me a chance to exorcise the demon.”

Gallery 51: "It's Just Cool"

Gallery 51 is a prime arena to host the exhibit, Danny O said.

“It’s just cool and I’m glad that it’s an art space,” he said. “It’s an art gallery, there’s real art in there, and I think we needed that.”

Gallery 51 opened during the summer and is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. MCLA students Diane Cardosa, Amelia Wood, and Kara Perry and retired Episcopal priest Rev. James Harkins staff the gallery.

The gallery has a lot of “energy,” said Danny O.

“It combines a lot of things. It pulls in artists, it pulls in the college, and it brings a social context, a chance for the artists to meet and talk.”

The desks will be exhibited on-line at www.mcla.edu beginning Nov. 3.

Additional information about the desk project is available by calling 413-662-5543.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.


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