The first large-scale sculpture by Riverton Township artist Manierre Dawson was unveiled on the West Shore Community College Alumni Plaza outside the Schoenherr Campus Center on Saturday.
The 9-foot-high bronze sculpture sits atop a 5-foot black granite pedestal. Titled “Daedayl,” the piece is an abstract representation consisting of one continuous line that bends and curls throughout the length of the composition. Dawson took the title from the name “Daedalus,” a character in Greek mythology.
Thomas Hawley, executive director of college relations and sculpture project manager, opened the ceremony by describing public art and sculpture as a form of civic dialogue that “engages us in conversations that can vary from an understanding of historical and cultural backgrounds to an understanding of where we live.”
Dawson lived on a farm in Riverton Township for 55 years, and the shapes of leaves and branches in his peach and pear orchards informed his paintings and sculptures.
Art historians now consider him to be America’s first abstract artist, and his work is in permanent art collections throughout the country. “Daedayl” recognizes Dawson’s significant place in Mason County’s heritage.
In his welcoming remarks, West Shore President Scott Ward noted the college’s longtime recognition of the importance of cultural arts, beginning with its first president, John Eaton, and sustained by the presidents that followed. “Through a public arts program, the college can aim to add in visual form to its core values,” Ward said.
“Daedayl” is also a part of the Mason County Sculpture Trail, the series of pieces located throughout the county. Dr. William Anderson, chair of the task force that oversees the trail, reflected on Dawson’s early relationship with West Shore.
“From the beginning,” he said, “the college has demonstrated the importance of art appreciation and creative and artistic development.” West Shore’s first art instructor, Leo Teholiz, he explained, invited Dawson to display his work on campus and urged him to donate a piece to begin the college’s permanent art collection.
Dawson’s donation, Untitled (Labyrinth) is now displayed in the Manierre Dawson Gallery in the Arts and Sciences Center. “That early beginning of the art program at the college has now developed to where we are today, which is really significant,” Anderson said.
Arizona sculpture consultant Beth Lauterbach, who has assisted with several Sculpture Trail projects, worked with the foundry which produced the piece. Based on her suggestions, a 3D image of the original sculpture was scaled up 240% to create a Styrofoam model. The model was then shipped to Tyson Snow, an artist in Utah who completed the reproduction.
Creating bronze molds, assembling the piece and adding the finishing details was challenging, but Snow, who had worked on two previous Sculpture Trail pieces, was up to the task. Accustomed to working on representational pieces, Snow nonetheless found the form of Dawson’s abstract piece familiar.
“It had a presence,” he explained of the sculpture. “Only later did I learn that he owned and cared for a fruit tree orchard which inspired his works. I can’t begin to tell you how impactful that was to me. From time immemorial, trees have been used as a symbol to represent people and the human family. I felt a great connection with this piece before I even realized what the artist’s intentions were for it.”
Speakers also included Dr. Andrew Riemer, whose financial gift to the college’s foundation made the sculpture possible, and Sharon Bluhm, West Shore professor emerita, who wrote the 2012 biography Manierre Dawson: Inventions of the Mind and spearheaded the mission to acknowledge the artist’s legacy.
Dawson’s grandson Peter Lockwood traveled from Arlington, Texas, to participate in the ceremony and express his gratitude to the sculpture team. “My grandfather would be very pleased and humbled and honored by this dedication of one of his creations,” he said.
Following the unveiling, the public viewed for the first time three new Dawson donations in the Manierre Dawson Gallery. The new additions and “Daedayl” bring the West Shore collection to 10 — the largest collection of Dawson works in Michigan.
“Although we are honoring Manierre Dawson today, I feel he honored us threefold through his artwork,” said Bluhm. “His life and work are an inspiration to us all.”