Solstitial

During the initial week of summer I was moved to visit the results of Peter Jon Snyder’s collaborative sculpture project entitled, Stepping Stones into the Future, at the Reading Public Museum. It is a massive creation constructed by the artist and members of the Reading/Berks community and facilitated by the museum. This homage to the summer solstice – on view through the entire season – dramatizes its surroundings and gathers viewers like a giant earth magnet.Strategically positioned on the grounds across from the museum entrance, the spiral earthwork rises up toward the sunlight it honors. The conical pyramid form is surrounded by a series of semiological assemblage sculptures that stand like silent sentinels. They guard the magical entranceway and invite visitors to make the journey up the marble-studded path to reach the summit. I visited the piece when the temperature was near one-hundred degrees. The day was all about the sun and it seemed fitting to make the pilgrimage.The work is accessed from the red bridge over the stream that runs by the front of the museum. Passing the brilliant flower gardens on the tree-lined way provides a positive feeling about this sun-drenched season of growth and bountiful life. Formed of earth, marble, and implements of wood and metal, Stepping Stones into the Future is about both the industrial and the natural aspects of our lives. On the day of my visit, big machines were excavating the street that passes by the side of the work. My mind was filled with the sights and sounds of both ebullient nature and bustling mechanical energy.Unlike much of Snyder’s work the assemblages that accompany the earthwork are mostly unpainted and show natural tones of rusted metal and weathered wood. The predominant hue is brown. Only the broken shards of polished marble that create the spiral pathway provide chromatic variety as they reflect the surrounding trees and the sky overhead. The packed topsoil that forms the structure has been seeded but it may never attain a verdant covering – a situation that is shared by the farmers’ fields struggling to grow through the current dearth of rain. And so it is the raw and sometimes ruthless power of our sun that must be confronted. What makes this sculpture a spiritual experience for me is the rough truth that the same cosmic force that gives life can take it away again. The sun is an awesome and sometimes fearful presence in our lives. And it has always been thus. We tame it with architecture, temper it with air conditioning and irrigation, harness its energy for our needs, and bask in its warming rays. But it can overwhelm our attempts to control its constant energy and render us bone-dry, parched, and brittle. Humans worship the sun because it gives us life and we fear it because it can take life away. The artist’s community-spirited monument here evokes intimations of both life and death.Peter Jon Snyder was one of the first artists I met when I returned to Reading from San Francisco at the beginning of the 1980s. He has always struck me as a focused, brilliant, and exuberant man who is in tune with his inner self. His art is consistently celebratory and positive. In this most recent work I sense a mature vision that encompasses the complexities of experience and reflects a life lived close to the truths of humanity and the realities of existence on earth. We’re fortunate to have this artist and his moving work with us as we step into the future.*Images by TFD, 2005

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