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Sunday, 28 December 2003
Who Am I?

The 2003 Winter Gallery exhibition of the Southold Historical Society was entitled "Rooted in the Soil: Southold's Agrarian Heritage." My wife Louise is on the exhibition committee and this show was largely our brainchild in conception and installation. It was an invitational opportunity for local artists to offer images of the local heritage and landscape in a local venue. I designed panels hung from chain to increase surface area of the room and I executed a carved mahogany frame done for a painting of a Long Island vineyard by my colleague in construction, Joan Chambers.

We were asked to submit a brief biographical statement, which I repeat here:

"Bennett Sykes Blackburn's life work is the realization of three-dimensional form. This has been a dialogue between the practical and the visionary. His Honors thesis at Wesleyan University explored both abstract woodcarving and furniture design. In the 25 years since moving to Long Island's North Fork, the practical side has morphed from commissioned furniture to the restoration and renovation of woodwork in historic houses. This has been both a livelihood and the means to a home, the circa 1815 Overton-Fitz house in Peconic.

Significant sculptural accomplishiments include a suite of four lifesized walnut figures at Duck Walk Winery; "The People of Fire," a suite of three bronzes depicting the stages of healing from childhood sexual abuse; the "Angel Series," complex abstract walnut carvings; the "Tourist Trap," for "Footfalls" in Greenport; Sykesgallery, North Adams, Massachusetts, a two year changing storefront installation; and learning to pay attention when the sculpture gods call.

Recent work has explored compression and tension compositions using fitted stone, steel rod and chain.

Wednesday evenings his studio hosts a meeting of the Peconic Wood Sculptors, whose work was the subject of the Southold Historical Society's 2001 exhibit, "Out of the Wood." More work can be seen at and in private collections across the USA."

Posted by Bennett at 10:01 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 26 May 2005 8:33 PM EDT
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Who Am I?-II

So there you have it. I don't earn a living as a sculptor, I am a joiner, or if you prefer, a carpenter. I get the tasty job once in a of this writing I am nearing completion on the exterior restoration of the circa 1649 Old House in Cutchogue, New York. Over a mile of quarter sawn white oak clapboards predrilled and nailed into the oak framing, and countless thousands of dollars in 16/4 white oak for the windows. If you have more interest in the window restoration go here.

Posted by Bennett at 9:54 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 23 October 2005 10:23 AM EDT
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The Angels Depart

At the time I was maintaining Sykesgallery, North Adams, Mass., I was convinced that I was doing the work that would establish my reputation: the Angel Series. The internet and the storefront installation would be the venues to recognition.

That expectation imploded. Not that there was no feedback at all. There was the woman who stuck her head in the door at Eagle Street while I was changing the sculpture on the 2/3 rpm motor drive bases and asked if I was Mr Sykes, No, I'm Bennett Sykes Blackburn....."Oh. Well, thank you." And there was the day that Eagle Street was filled with sand and turned into a beach party and I watched from my beach chair while a young man walked away from the window and stopped, shook his head and said "Damn, I really liked that! I'm going to look again." and he turned around and did so. And there was the still small voice that said quietly in my mind's ear, "Thank you for the Angels." I have also had kind e-mails from students and accomplished wood carvers: maybe a dozen people took the time to write.

So what happened? The equation of time and money. This work is labor and time intensive almost beyond imagining. I have never asked for a price that translated into a hourly wage that was more than a check-out person at the grocery store earns. I understand that time is not a factor in the Art World valuation of a piece, but when I must earn a dayjob wage to buy my time to create, it makes little sense to sell the work and not be able to afford the time to replace it. Bottom line: a career without patronage doesn't exist. It's a ship dead in the water.

My last three business transactions have helped point me in a different direction. The person who commissioned an Elmwood plaque for the local Town Hall, ended our relationship with the words "An artist cannot expect to be well paid for his work because he enjoys it." A collector of wood carvings likewise gave me the gift of a concluding sentence of three clauses, "I love your work, but you're not an investment, and you cost too much." Another dealer-collector has never tired of telling me that everything else in his collection has established resale value, but my work is a consumable. Thanks guys for the insight.

Something in the universe has been pushing me toward another form of sculptural expression, collaborating with my wife and having fun. A ship dead in the water has transmogrified into a carbon fiber stealth craft that flies where it will, undetected by collectors, galleries, museums or the public. Is anybody reading this?

Posted by Bennett at 9:26 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 28 December 2003 12:01 PM EST
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The Angels Depart-II

The angels have departed, their inspiration spent. I completed two small carvings that were extracted in the course of carving the "Ruins of the House of Rage." I also determined to smooth finish Both "Ruins" and "To the Mountain," which were both left with a chiseled finish in the haste that drove me to get them into the Eagle Street storefront gallery. This work continues, between other things.

Posted by Bennett at 9:23 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 28 December 2003 12:52 PM EST
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The sculpture gods......they whom I serve.....just a metaphor for the process of inspiration, right? Perhaps........

Inspirations.....messages from the gods......they are usually small occurances in the minds eye.....the trick is in learning to notice......and then pay attention.

Once in awhile they hit you on the side of the head with the force of a sledge hammer.

Lulu (my wife Louise) had been making Christmas presents using cigar boxes embellished with beads, glitter, and historic detritis found in our house, which has been in her family for uncounted generations. At the same time I was working on a plasticine study for a female figure, whose breasts were quartz pebbles from the beach of Gardiner's Island, where I work on dirty old buildings from time to time. I had encouraged the creative potential of the possibly tacky aesthetic of beads and glitter.....just one step removed from painting on black velvet......but it aint the stuff you use, its what you do with it. Christmas day, I open this present, and there is a Lulu watercolor of my platicine placed in a circus environment and covered with beads and glitter and plastic stars and feathers....entitled "The Beautiful Tatooed Lody." She is a bit of a mutant, having no arms.....all tits and ass; belongs in the circus.

Marching Orders. Delivered with the force of a Sledge Hammer. This was not the path back to the Angel Series. This was the start of a collaboration which is informing my work to the present.

The walnut carving of the Beautiful Tatooed Lady has a silver glitter tatoo of the crescent moon on her thigh, a silver earring , and a feather in her lackofhair. It blew me away.

Posted by Bennett at 9:17 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 28 December 2003 12:52 PM EST
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The next collaboration was "The Mountain." The walnut was quickly shaped with power tools and a chisel here and there. Beaded waterfalls emerge from the cracks in the mountain stones and chess men found caves to live in and a strange dollhouse chair found its way to the prospect at the very top. We couldnt find the place for the little micromachine dump truck filled with glitter stars. That toy truck generated "The Bridge."

Two hands emerging from the side of a mountain, holding an arch of stones underwhich a waterfall decends.The construction vehicle approachs the crest of the arch. Did I mention that at this point we owned the property in Vermont, had the architect's plans for our non-electric camp and didnt have the slightest notion of how we would get it built, except that, whatever the funding might be, and whenever it might manifest itself, we would build it together. These Pieces are statements of faith.

Posted by Bennett at 9:17 AM EST
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Tit Rock Pieces

From the Beautiful Tatooed Lady with her carved walnut breasts reproducing the form of beach stones, it was a small leap of imagination to stone torsos with actual beach stones as the breasts.......Tit Rocks.

With only a diamond saw mounted in a side arm grinder and a hammerdrill, I was able to hollow out the torso rock and install the tit rocks using steel reinforced mortar joints.

Posted by Bennett at 9:07 AM EST
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Tit Rock Pieces-II

One of these pieces moved to the mountain in Vermont, and inspired me to haul my generator and grinders in a wheelbarrow to the top of the mountain and cut the piece we called "Eating Primal Rock."

Posted by Bennett at 9:03 AM EST
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Somewhere in the synapses of inspiration the steel rods on which the cored bricks of the Brick Things are threaded mutated into chain, and the bricks into stone, and the image of Prometheus chained on the mountaintop became the image of the stones themselves chained together.

There is this outcrop of stone of the meadow of the mountain that has always begged for a sculptural presence. We found the stone for it, but couldnt move it with a five foot steel bar. When we got the four-wheel drive truck, I hooked up the chain and Louise drove, and we dragged the stone across the meadow to the outcrop. Amid camping in the frost of October while the excavation and concrete work for the camp was accomplished, I blew the hole through the stone with the hammerdrill, and left it. Louise asked what I wanted for my November birthday and I said, a weekend North to mount the stone. The two inchs of snow melted over the course of a beautiful day, as we set up a tripod and cut the bottom of the stone to a V shaped edge and cut a corresponding grove in the outcrop. Lifted and placed the stone with a two ton chain hoist and secured the whole thing with 7/16 inch steel pins and chain. This collaboration was the best birthday I ever had..........Prometheus.

Posted by Bennett at 8:53 AM EST
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I did Prometheus II in Peconic. Again stone and steel chain, but no steel pins this time, just a continuous length of chain joined with a shackle. A very strange hollow rock hauled off the beach years before makes it a bird bath.

Prometheus III was placed with the help of Jon Bohl and his 20 ton Hitachi excavator (the man is an artist). Louise suggested that it should include a stone suppended by chain, so I prepared a Long Island beach rock and when we snowshoed into the mountain, I installed the binding chain and suspended rock. By then we were preparing for the war with Iraq.

Posted by Bennett at 8:47 AM EST
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Stone, Steel, and the Protest Against War-I

When the first President Bush took on Saddam Hussein in Operation Desert Storm, I took to taking long walks through the woods along Long Island Sound near our home in Peconic. I would make piles of rocks along the way. To place one stone upon another seemed a primal human anti-entropic gesture.....the opposite of the destruction of war. In the sixties I never saw the point of waving signs while marching and chanting as a War Protest, and piles of stone seemed every bit as meaningful a gesture of protest. Piles of stone in the woods fall down for whatever reason; when I returned several years later, my protest piles were all gone.

Posted by Bennett at 8:37 AM EST
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Stone Steel and the Protest Against War-II

When Bush II started the build up for attempt #2 against Saddam, I had chain and steel rods to bind the stone till the steel rusted out. I set myself the challenge of a piece a week over the course of the media hype that justified our national agression.

Posted by Bennett at 8:29 AM EST
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Stone, Steel and the Protest Against War-III

When the newspaper headlines declared "Endgame" I did the last of these pieces, the fourth stone suspended by chain from three other stone piles. The next day we started the invasion. Not long after that Louise and I began the work on the camp in Vermont and the sculpture gods placed me on sabbattical for the duration of the spring, summer and fall.

Posted by Bennett at 8:15 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 28 December 2003 11:15 AM EST
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Saturday, 27 December 2003
My Father's Death

In the midst of the Stones and Steel War Protests, my father, aged 94, slipped into a coma as a result of renal failure. He hung on for an amazing two weeks, during which I worked on a rock assemblage with a bit more carving and interpenetration than the simple conjunctions of fitted wild stone which I considered protests. This piece felt like an exploration of my feelings about the family of my birth.

The day my father died, I went out to my stone workbench and did a simple piece of a single stone hung by chain in the carved gullet of another stone.

I have no idea if these pieces communicate to others my feelings of personal conflict and resolution. I have no idea if others would pick up from the War Protests the sense of intense resistance to destruction which I felt in doing them. In dealing with non-objective sculpture, it is probably enough that the piece capture, hold and communicate a sense of psychic energy. The meaning of that energy may well be irrelevant to the viewer, if it at least comes through the piece.

Posted by Bennett at 10:57 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 28 December 2003 11:16 AM EST
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Somewhow the creative projects that Louise does at Christmas work their way into my aesthetic awareness and cause changes........ This year she found her way into mosaics...hotplates for the whole family. Mosaic supplies at the craft store are absurdly expensive, and she found her way into the pet store and its supply of colored fish tank gravel.......right on Lulu.

A walk on the beach brought home a collection of beach stone, and I began to play with them, sort of a do it yourself puzzle. Louise added the shells and beach glass. Not much good as a hotplate, but a neat wall piece.

The thought occured to me that the rocks in the Vermont woods could be worked to provide a field for mosaic work, so I took a piece of quartzite we had brought to Long Island from Vermont, and cut the channels for Louise to fill. Mirrors facing each other in the canyon of the carving produce infinity chambers within the stone. This piece feels like a map of a sacred site of the mind.

The granite piece was a collaboration from the start. We studied the rock in its wild state, concieved the modifications by diamond saw carving which I then did, and worked together to glue on the granite stones from the beach with latex grout adhesive..........Stay tuned.

Posted by Bennett at 9:55 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 28 December 2003 11:28 AM EST
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