Series of public art programs spotlight “Wide Babelki Bowl” sculpture

Sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard and Hood Museum of Art Director John Stomberg gave a presentation on the cedar wood installation.

by Madeline Sawyer | 05/10/21 2:05 am

Ursula von Rydingsvard, Wide Babelki Bowl, 2007, cedar. Gift of Margarit and Jens Jacobs; 2019.90. © Ursula von Rydingsvard.

Source: Courtesy of Anna Kaye M. Schulte

At a virtual conference on May 5, Hood Museum of Art Director John Stomberg chaired a conversation with sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard who highlighted her piece, “Wide Babelki Bowl,” a sculpture that is part from the Dartmouth Public Art Collection.

The conference marked the second segment of the Spotlight on Public Art program series, which focuses on the College’s collection of public art installations. Sponsored by The Hood and open to the public, the segments feature live conversations and Q&A with artists.

This segment began with a short video featuring the “Wide Babelki Bowl”, created in 2007 and installed on campus next to the Rollins Chapel in August 2020. According to von Rydingsvard, “Babelki are the popcorn stitches that are knitted on sweaters, but in Polish they also refer to the little balls of lambswool down attached to the neck or waist of a sweater. The sculpture has been designed so that the texture of the bowl reproduces the babelki popcorn stitching.

During Q&A, Stomberg presented slides and images of the sculpture, its installation, and other works by von Rydingsvard at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Wide Babelki Bowl was recently donated to Dartmouth by Jens and Margarit Jacobs, who originally ordered the piece for their farm in Woodstock, Vermont. Stomberg noted that acquiring artwork in this way is unusual, as The Hood curates a collection tailored to Dartmouth’s image, which he says doesn’t fit most giveaways.

According to Stomberg, the Jacobs kept in touch with von Rydinsgvard’s gallery owner. When the couple expressed interest in donating their commissioned sculpture, von Rydinsgvard’s gallery owner contacted Stomberg, aware of Stomberg’s long-standing interest in the Brooklyn-based artist‘s work. A personal connection to the College helped solidify the gift – according to von Rydingsvard, his grandchild attended Dartmouth.

Von Rydingsvard discussed the connection between his work and his personal life, describing his childhood living on a farm during World War II. Hoping for a different life for their seven children, von Rydingsvard’s parents left the farm, spent time in eight post-war refugee camps, and eventually made their way to the United States. Although the babelkis motif is a call to his childhood, von Rydingsvard insists that his story is not an active influence in most of his works.

“Wide Babelki Bowl” is representative of von Rydingsvard’s work, as she is best known for her large wooden sculptures located in outdoor public spaces. Since the 1970s, cedar beams from southwestern Canada have become a signature of his work. She remembers carving cedar planks as a graduate student at Columbia University and immediately realized its connection to the material.

After completing a sculpture, natural forces change the color and shape of the cedar over time, a lifelike quality that von Rydingsvard says she appreciates.

Made from around 600 or 700 cedar planks, the “Wide Babelki Bowl” is smaller than most other pieces by von Rydingsvard.

“It’s cedar, it’s wood, it feels so incredibly ‘Dartmouth’ to me,” Stomberg said. “It’s rational and irrational, it’s strong and small and big, and all these things that we’re trying to load into the idea of ​​’what is Dartmouth?’ It’s adventurous, isn’t it?

Hood’s Curator of Academic Programming Amelia Kahl ’01 echoed the connection between the material of the sculpture and the identity of Dartmouth.

“Dartmouth’s connection to the outdoors is so important, so having a wood sculpture and seeing it evolve over the years, it feels like it really fits in with Dartmouth’s location and Dartmouth’s values ​​and to the aesthetic of Dartmouth, ”Kahl said.

Stomberg also mentioned a “secret” viewpoint, a place on the steps of the Rollins Chapel, where

observers can see the interior of the sculpture – giving an idea of ​​its volume. Although the interior of the sculpture is rarely seen, it is entirely sculpted.

Stomberg said this attention to detail is characteristic of von Rydingsvard’s work. He recalled

her first close encounter with her art, when she was not satisfied with the color of a bronze sculpture

and traveled to put on a new patina.

“I was so blown away by her, by her passion, how much she cares,” Stomberg said. “And it was a work already sold, already moved, already installed. She could have just walked away. But she really didn’t want to do that.

Stomberg emphasized the personal nature of each of von Rydingsvard’s works.

“His concern for sculpture is akin to a concern you have for a loved one,” Stomberg said.

Von Rydingsvard said that “Wide Babelki Bowl” inspired his later work “Large Bowl with Babelki”, created for an exhibition in a European convent.

Both Stomberg and von Rydingsvard stress the importance of location, saying finding the right spot on campus for the “Wide Babelki Bowl” took months of planning.

“We had to be really tuned in to the intricacies of [‘Wid Babelki Bowl’] and the artist’s goals, ”Stomberg said. “It resonates with Rollins and with Dartmouth in great manners. [von Rydingsvard] once told me,[‘Wide Babelki Bowl’] looks happy there.

Stomberg described the sculpture as blending in and remaining distinct from its surroundings. The removal of the sculpture from the sidewalk aims to strike a balance between urban and isolated.

“I’m looking for an organized campus,” Stomberg said. “I actually want to think of the campus as a canvas or a gallery and organize it, so that you always have accidental encounters with art as you walk around, but it’s not entirely accidental.”

Cindy Wang ’24, who spends the sculpture frequently, said she was intrigued by the work at first sight.

“[The babelkis] remind me of heads, ”Cindy Wang ’24 said. “Every time I pass, it always reminds me of faces, of the little things that stand out.”

Fabricio Lopez ’24 felt the same about his encounters with “Wide Babelki Bowl”.

“To me, these rocks kind of look like faces, but without the facial features,” he said.

About Edward Weddle

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