by Keith Loria — In 2016, a group of members from the Save Our Stepney Task Force, in cooperation with the Town of Monroe, launched the first Art on the Green sculpture exhibition on the Stepney Green in Monroe.
The idea came about when a bunch of likeminded art enthusiasts involved in SOS, the organization that looks to preserve and enhance the character of the village of Stepney, realized there was no longer an arts council in the town of Monroe and they wanted to do something artsy to bring attention to the Stepney Green.
“Our small group realized that there are about 20,000 cars that pass by the Stepney Green and we wanted to find a way to bring art to the public as opposed to the traditional way of people driving to a gallery,” said Joel Leneker, president of SOS. “We have this very small green, so we figured why not make the green an outdoor art space.”
The first display was by Caitlin Loehr of Monroe, whose yarn installation was called The Campaign Against Endless Winter. Once SOS saw that people were interested, it decided to make things more official.
SOS partnered with the Cultural Alliance of Connecticut, which connected it to more than 3,000 different organizations, and put out a call for artists to submit digital files of their work.
“We received a number of responses and had a small jury look through the different sculptors and chose three,” Leneker said. “We gave each artist three months for their display with a small stipend for transportation costs.”
Each of the artists also came to the Green one weekend for a meet-and-greet with the community, talking about their art, with light food and beverages served.
Located on Main Street, Monroe, at the intersection of Routes 25 and 59, with 1.2 acres including a gazebo and Memorial Garden, the Green makes for an outstanding place for sculpture displays, Leneker said.
Of course, there were some challenges to getting it all up and running. Leneker explained that the committee needed permission from the town and had some insurance issues to guard against vandalism or injury. But once everything was worked out and the artists began their displays, the program was a huge success.
“It gave some great Connecticut sculptors the chance to display their work and it also brought a lot of people to the Green,” he said. “We saw it as a win/win.”
The three artists taking part last year were Ziggy Bober, a sculptor, muralist and painter from Norwalk; Florence Suerig, a sculptor from Greenwich; and Dan Bergfeld of New Canaan.
Bober, originally from Poland, was chosen to kick off the series officially, Leneker said, because of his sculptures’ whimsy, scale and the fact that they light up at night, offering viewers a different sculptural experience from that of the daytime. The three sculptures in his exhibit were Awakening, Rebirth and Desiderata, which the artist described as “surreal sculptures symbolizing our space in the universe.”
“This was a great opportunity because I was able to introduce my art to the community,” said Bober, owner of ZB DeSIGN in Norwalk. “I was able to meet a lot of friendly citizens of Monroe. It was a great way to provide the community with a creative experience while conserving the beauty. I think the Stepney Green is an ideal location for displaying this kind of art. The area is open and very safe.”
Suerig displayed large porcelain sculptures of a man and woman in abstraction, titled Heloise and Abelard.
“It was an opportunity to display the work outdoors and covered with lights to be seen at night. The area is non-denominational and can be seen by all age groups to enrich their ability to see art close up,” Suerig said. “I have been a sculptor for the past 15 years. My work is from my heart, and the sculpture is not preplanned but is realized set to music — as I work and think of dance, I embrace the moment.”
Bergfeld creates wind-driven sculptures using interoperated leaves that “dance and sing in the breeze,” and he had three sculptures on display.
Oak Breeze, an 18-foot wing that stands eight-feet tall and moves in both light and heavy winds; Bell Tree, a seven-foot high tree with white birds perched in its branches; and Maple Wheel, a nine-foot tall sculpture with three large maple leaves suspended in the center of an 18th Century wagon wheel.
“The idea for this piece came to life as I watched a maple-sugaring farmer in Vermont hauling wood to his sugar shack in an old wagon,” Bergfeld said. “The maple leaves are positioned such that when a strong wind blows the leaves bump against each other and chime in a deep voice.”
The SOS is currently accepting applications for its 2017 Art on the Stepney Green season, with artists encouraged to submit a digital portfolio of sculptures (large enough to be viewed from the street) to Lee Hossler at email@example.com. Or, call 203-261-5702 or visit www.stepneyct.org for more details.
“Last year, our artists were all from Connecticut, but artists submitting can be from anywhere,” Leneker said. “We are looking at bringing the best quality and most interesting sculptures to the green and welcome anyone.”
The organization is also hoping to bring in a guest sculptor for 2017 — someone very well known. But details on that won’t be available until later in the year.
“We are giving carte blanche to our artists though we would like to get some traditional steel sculpture type stuff vs. fabric art,” Leneker said. “We want to have a mix and create a strong visual interest.”
And since it’s the bicentennial of the green this year, SOS is also planning several activities, including bringing in a carousel to offer free rides this summer and donating money for a time capsule that will be buried on July 16.