Artist finds his way to North Adams & contemporary art to Eagle StreetContemporary art has come to Eagle Street in North Adams.
The story of how it got there could be seen as an example of how new people, ideas, and creativity are making their way to Northern Berkshire.
Bennett Sykes Blackburn, of Peconic, Long Island, N.Y., is a sculptor and woodcarver who works as an architectural woodworker. He is the first artist to take advantage of gallery row — the storefront spaces on Eagle Street In North Adams available to be rented by artists. These gallery spaces — several are left —are part of the historic “flat iron” building revitalized by North Adams artist and developer Eric Rudd.
Blackburn, with help from his wife, Louise, has installed two elaborate sculptures in the window, and they are meant to be viewed from the street. The works are on platforms that rotate so that the viewer can get the three-dimensional effect and are lit up by lights on a Victorian-style framing structure, which Blackburn referred to as a gazebo or baldichin.
“I’m basically a woodcarver,” he said. “Actually, it’s an interesting show in that it’s two variations on the same piece, one of which is a woodcarving, the other of which is a bronze that was the plasticine study that I did before the woodcarving.”
The vertical work is black walnut and is called Angelfire. The horizontal work is in bronze and called Flight.
“I built what we somewhat sarcastically refer to as baldichins based on Bernini’s baldichin at St. Peter’s, with a canopy and so forth,” he said. “I just wanted a structure that would hold lights to light the sculpture, and I tried to focus on doing what would basically be a three-dimensional presentation of sculptures ... that would make the work accessible from the street.
“So I built motorized bases that turn at every minute and 20 seconds,” he said. “I built these two nice window installations, and we hope to change the pieces every four to six weeks, so there’s something new.”
“We would like to participate in what’s going on around, in the energy, and maybe be part of the catalyst seed,” Blackburn said. “On a conceptual level, I suppose my installation recapitulates North Adams as a Victorian town housing modern art, and that’s what I did in the window is build a Victorian structure that repeats the building and change the sculptures in the middle of it.”
His gallery space at 48 Eagle St. is called sykesgallery.com and is interconnected with a Website of the same name.
The site was set up by Blackburn’s son, Barak Blackburn, who works at the Internet firm Tripod in Williamstown and lives in North Adams.
Barak Blackburn went to Binghamton University and applied for and got a job at Tripod. Bennett Blackburn said his family has strong roots in Northampton.
“When Barak moved up here, of course we came up to visit and went to MASS MoCA ... and joined and then decided that ... something could happen here,” Blackburn said.
He said he heard about the downtown art installation that the Contemporary Artists Center sponsors every summer in storefronts downtown. His son put him in touch with Eric Rudd, who noted that he had space for rent.
“We thought about it and decided to go ahead and rent that little, teeny space right at the point of the flatiron building,” he said.
Blackburn and his wife, Louise, who is a social worker, said they think North Adams is undergoing sort of an art renaissance.
“We’re telling everybody we know on Long Island about it up here,” said Louise.
They have bought some land in Stamford, Vt. for a summer retreat or camp.
Blackburn said the gallery is basically a gift to the street and the city.
“And it would be nice if people looked up the Website, and it would be nice if people bought art,” he said. “But you try to keep your expectations within the realm of reason. “Hopefully, it will plant some seeds in some of the other spaces along there in gallery row.”