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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

“Desktacular” Opens

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, November 04, 2005

A close-up "head shot" of Richard Criddle's "Mr. Goodbody" sculpture
North Adams – The question: Who knew that a dozen vintage, plain, wooden-and–metal desks could be transformed into twelve very different artistic visions?

The answer: The artists who tackled a Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts desks-as-art project.

The “Desktacular” exhibit opened at Main Street’s Gallery 51 on Nov. 3. The opening drew over 200 visitors and generated a pleased response from MCLA President Mary K. Grant.

“I think the turnout is terrific and the energy here is wonderful,” Grant said. “It is so exciting to see so many people here for the art.”

Guitar, Goodbody, and A Beacon Join Duck and Cover


A Gallery 51 visitor investigates David Lachman's "Duck and Cover Remix" art.
“The art” ranged from Richard Criddle’s imposing “Mr. Goodbody” sculpture to Ven Voisey’s towering “Beacon.” David Lachman’s thought-provoking “Duck and Cover Remix,” which required individuals to lie underneath a desk to experience a video that blended 1960s’era school-based “duck and cover” nuclear bomb attack instructions with more current images, drew interest and generated discussion. And Nick Zammuto crafted a desk into a working guitar and titled the piece “Unison.”

Voisey's work perched the desktop on tall, slender legs punctuated by ladders. From the desktop poured a bright white light.

“It’s about knowledge and communication,” Voisey said. “It’s up there, but is it attainable? The ladders are there, but they don’t go all the way to the top, and it’s not an easy route.”

Kanzi Inspires Coombs

Debora Coombs stained glass work titled “Brothers and Sisters 98.4 %” delivered a message that several people found surprising and interesting: the genetic codes of Bonobo apes and human beings are separated by a difference of less than two percent.


Coombs desk project was inspired by the story of Kanzi, a rare Bonobo ape with an ability to communicate with humans using a computer board outfitted with specific symbols and letters. Kanzi’s accomplishment becomes more fascinating when one learns that Kanzi learned to communicate a bit by accident; according to Coombs, scientists were attempting to teach skills to Kanzi’s adoptive mother Matata, with less than stellar results.

Kanzi was present during teaching sessions and apparently learned what his mother did not simply by watching, Coombs said.

“It was about two years later that they realized that Kanzi had learned to ‘speak,’” Coombs said. “This has prompted scientists to take another look at the separation between animals and humans.’

Information about Kanzi is posted near Coomb’s artwork, and may also be found at the www.bonobo.org web site.

A Bonobo ape named Kanzi inspired this stained-glass work by Debora Coombs.


Teen Talent On Display

The desks were discovered during the MCLA renovation of the 110-year-old Murdock Hall. Artists Danny O, Kate Bae, Sean Riley, Carolyn Ryder Cooley, and Laura Christiansen joined Criddle, Coombs, Voisey and Zammuto with the art project; MCLA Vice-president of Administration and Finance James Stakenas restored a desk to near-original condition. The desk is included at the Gallery 51 exhibit.

Edward Cating produced a large photograph of a desk titled “This Is Not A Desk,” and 16-year-old Phyllis Criddle, the daughter of Richard Criddle and Deborah Coombs, created a series of black-and-white photographs that illustrate the making of Richard Criddle’s sculpture. The photographs are displayed along a gallery wall.
Phyllis Criddle attended the opening.

“I like photography but I don’t know if that would be my career,” she said. “I think I’m looking at fashion or dance.’


Gallery 51 is hosting a black-and-white photography exhibit by 16-year-old Phyllis Criddle.
Criddle is a student at the Putney School in Putney, Vt..

“Desktacular” desks are slated for auction during a scheduled Dec. 1 celebratory event that will mark the exhibit’s closing. The desks may be viewed at a www.mcla.edu web site and at Gallery 51. The gallery is open 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Thurs. – Sun. and is staffed by MCLA students Diane Cardosa, Amelia Wood, and Kara Perry and retired clergyman Rev. James Harkins.

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

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