New London will host a series of sculptures on its streets

Artist Hugh MacDonald attaches one of his “Big Head Jimbo and Big Head Bimbo” sculptures to a crane as he installs the humorous husband-and-wife piece outside Copy Cats in Hodges Square on Wednesday in New London. The piece is the first installment of The Sculpture Mile, a year-long art exhibition to be installed around New London as a project with the Hollycroft Foundation. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Artist Hugh MacDonald attaches one of his “Big Head Jimbo and Big Head Bimbo” sculptures to a crane as he installs the humorous husband-and-wife piece outside Copy Cats in Hodges Square on Wednesday in New London. The piece is the first installment of The Sculpture Mile, a year-long art exhibition to be installed around New London as a project with the Hollycroft Foundation. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

In a small grassy patch next to Mr. G’s restaurant in Hodges Square on Wednesday afternoon, two colorful, twisting metal sculptures were towed and craned out of a small pick-up truck. A small crowd of spectators, including city officials and advocates of the city’s art scene, had gathered in support of what the sculptures were heralding — the start of what will be known as New London’s Sculpture Mile Exhibition.

The Mile will be a year-round, mile-long, outdoor sculpture display. Once installed, it will stay in New London for years to come, with each sculpture rotated out on a yearly basis in exchange for a new one.

The Wednesday installment of the two sculptures, which were both created by Hugh MacDonald, was a preview of what’s to come. Residents can expect, over the next few months, to start seeing abstract and realist sculptures placed along the city’s streets.

“The mission is to acquaint the public with contemporary sculpture,” artist, long-time art critic and founder of the Sculpture Mile, William Bendig, said. “Sculpture is the least known field of the arts.”

This isn’t the first Sculpture Mile. Created in 1991 by Bendig, the Mile has been established in eight other Connecticut towns, bringing in what Bendig considers high-quality art to streets throughout the state. Locally, Sculpture Miles have been established in Madison, Essex and Old Saybrook. Coming to New London, Bendig says, will help in his effort to expand the Mile along the Connecticut shoreline, which is his long-term goal.

The pieces installed Wednesday, titled "Big Head Jimbo and Big Head Bimbo," depict a couple, and the lighthearted works are meant to draw attention to the New London Sculpture Mile, Bendig said.

The installation of the 20-plus sculptures that will make up the New London Sculpture Mile is expected to be completed by September. Running from the courthouse, through Hodges Square and McKinley Park, and ending at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, the Sculpture Mile is an effort that Mayor Michael Passero said will help revitalize the city and connect downtown New London to the Hodges Square neighborhood.

Private and public permission is still needed, however, to install the sculptures throughout the city. The sculptures installed on Wednesday are the only ones in New London so far that have received permission by a private property owner. In this case, the property is owned by Copy Cats Inc. Tammy Daugherty, director of New London’s Office of Development and Planning, said that she has been working to obtain the appropriate state and city permissions to place the works throughout New London. Some of those locations may include a spot in front of Gordon Court, for example, a locale at the corner of Huntington Street and Williams Street by the “Welcome to New London” sign, which is state property, and various spots throughout McKinley Park.

Daugherty does not expect to receive any pushback on obtaining the permissions, however, and with the support of local officials she believes everything will go according to plan.

She will be submitting applications to the state and to the city’s Housing Authority and Parks and Recreation Commission, with the hope that permission for each sculpture will be set by the end of July.

In the past, some of Bendig’s Miles have featured works by renowned artists such as Sol LeWitt, a famous minimal and conceptual sculptor who was from Connecticut, and George Rickey, who was a kinetic sculptor. The New London Mile will include works from Erwin Hauer, Anthony Padovano and Wendy Klemperer.

Bendig is also the founder of the Hollycroft Foundation, a non-profit organization that has sponsored the Sculpture Mile over the last 25 years.

The foundation, Bendig said, will be responsible in covering the costs associated with installment, removal and insurance and liability fees for each sculpture, so the city will not incur additional costs.

He came up with the idea for the Sculpture Mile while selling his property in Ivoryton. The site had hosted a medley of sculpture works that he had accumulated for his own private showings over the years.

With nowhere to place the sculptures, Bendig decided to situate each statue along Main Street in Essex, creating the first Sculpture Mile.

According to Art Costa, an advisor to the Hodges Square Village Association, a group working to revitalize the Hodges Square neighborhood of New London and spearheading the initiative to bring the Mile to New London, the idea will bring the Hodges Square neighborhood a needed dose of the downtown art scene.

“It’s a perfect way to link downtown New London through the Hodges Square section of the city,” Costa said. “We hope that it will bring more people through this part of New London that we are trying to revive.”

Costa and Bendig said that they will take responsibility to speak to private property owners about situating a sculpture on their front lawns, near the sidewalk, to allow for public viewing. Those who agree to allow a sculpture in their yard won’t be required to socialize with the public about the sculptures, but they can if they want, Bendig said.

Now 89 years old, Bendig still plans each detail of the Miles he creates and has managed to connect with hundreds of sculptors over his career.

Bendig has a discerning eye about the works that he allows in his Miles. He carefully chooses which areas to place specific sculptures. All of it must fit together, he said.

After the installment of the whimsical sculptures next to Hodges Square Park on Wednesday, Bendig sat on a bench in the park to explain his reasoning for fitting those two pieces to that location.

“That was the perfect place for them. That location had enough space, and the contrasting background make their colors pop,” he said, referring to the outer walls of Mr. G’s Restaurant and the Copy Cats shop next door.

“That property up the road wouldn’t work for a sculpture, however. The yard is too sloping, the lines couldn’t work with a sculpture,” he said, pointing up the street and already visualizing how the Mile would look.

Although Costa and other city officials view the Mile as way to revitalize neighborhoods, Bendig sees the Mile, specifically the one in New London, as much more than that.

Connecting the Mile from a sculpture created by Erwin Hauer that already sits in front of the courthouse to the Lyman Allyn Art Museum was a reason in itself to bring the Mile to New London, Bendig said.

By stretching the Mile between those two locations, the exhibition will holistically connect what Bendig considers some of New London’s most significant contributions to art into one overarching exhibition.

“New London is a far more attractive city than what is generally thought, and it does have a significant art scene,” Bendig said. “Bringing the Mile to New London just makes sense.”

 

A crowd gathers to watch as artist Hugh MacDonald of North Haven works on installing his 'Big Head Jimbo and Big Head Bimbo' sculptures in New London. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
A crowd gathers to watch as artist Hugh MacDonald of North Haven works on installing his "Big Head Jimbo and Big Head Bimbo" sculptures in New London. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Artist Hugh MacDonald works on one of his 'Big Head Jimbo and Big Head Bimbo' sculptures outside Copy Cats in Hodges Square on Wednesday in New London. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Artist Hugh MacDonald works on one of his "Big Head Jimbo and Big Head Bimbo" sculptures outside Copy Cats in Hodges Square on Wednesday in New London. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

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