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Hands Off Artwork: Leave Stone Field Alone

Rearranging Stone Field Sculpture Would Be Vandalizing Artwork

Will K. Wilkins

June 26, 2011

During the 21 years I've lived in Hartford, I've often had the pleasure of walking past and through Carl Andre's public artwork, Stone Field Sculpture, next to Center Church.

The meditative sequencing of the stones boulders from 1,000 pounds to 10 tons invites an exploration of its materials and its site. Stone Field does a lot of things at once: It is a contemporary idea that summons the deep time of pre-history and, with its proximity to the Ancient Burying Ground, invites reflection on the presence of our colonial past, and the inevitability of our own passing.

I was startled to learn earlier this month, at a forum hosted by the Hartford Public Library, that the designers of the proposed Bushnell Park re-imagining, called IQuilt, have made an early proposal to rearrange some of the stones, and run water through a portion of Stone Field.


Now, let's be clear and not mince words. Stone Field is a public sculpture known worldwide. Marring its context, rearranging it, "improving" it, adding a water feature, would set the stage for a national and international public embarrassment that Hartford can ill afford.

Hartford is a city that has torn down much of its notable past, yet Stone Field has seemed to me a likely survivor. I imagine Stone Field remaining, long after most downtown buildings have gone, an enduring reminder of the poetry possible in human creation. It has not, until now, occurred to me that the most significant threat to Stone Field might come from the misguided intentions of well-meaning people.

I wonder why this singular public artwork gets so little respect (and this from a town that, itself, gets no respect)? I'm aware of the public protests at the project's beginning. But, more than 30 years later, we should be able to see that what we have is a public monument that is unlike most monuments. It is made of simple materials, and it addresses profound ideas. It evokes the unknowable enormity of geologic time at the same time that it is itself a part of the poignant human impulse to bring order and definition into an existence that can seem unfathomable. It evokes a past before ancestors, and offers a place of reflection for each person who wanders through.

Leave Stone Field as it is. Don't redesign it. Don't "improve" it. (The site is the very thing that makes Stone Field work it is site-specific artwork.)

If you're reading this walk by it and through it, take another look at it, and let your voice be heard.

After I expressed my dismay at the Stone Field plans at the public meeting, several people approached me afterward some in hushed voices, saying, as though confessing, "I like the rocks."

This is an opportunity for education. Some people don't understand how it's art. Some people don't understand why it's special. Many, perhaps most, have never been encouraged to look.

This fall Real Art Ways will be hosting a downtown walking tour with UConn Professor Robert Thorson. He'll be talking about the varieties of stone used in our downtown buildings, where they come from, how and when they were formed. And we'll be concluding our tour at the Stone Field. Come open your eyes and open your hearts.

Will K. Wilkins is director of Real Art Ways in Hartford

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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