Art: An Unexpected Experience

Predawn light bathed the landscape blue.

I walked from the resort where we stayed toward downtown.

“Flower Dancing in the Wind” stands nearly life sized at the intersection of Woodin and Webster avenues, part of the Lake Chelan Outdoor Gallery—36 murals and sculptures in and around Chelan and Manson, Wash.

My plan was to photograph the sculpture at sunrise. I started from what seemed a respectful distance and then worked around to catch the detail of her beadwork.

That's when I realized her face was turned away. It felt being too in her space.

It rattled me enough that I resumed walking...and kept thinking.

Seeing sculpture through a phone camera allowed focus on details I would have only half experienced otherwise.

Perhaps because it can be touched and walked around, sculpture seems more embodied. She stands in ecstatic motion, embracing the sky, her left foot touching earth...rootedness and freedom.

Sculptor Jerry McKellar says, “The original inspiration for this sculpture came from the book, 'Dancing Colors.' The following quote created the vision in my mind's eye of a carefree young woman dancing with her shawl outstretched behind her: 'It was in the springtime that my grandmother gave me her name, Flower Dancing in the Wind....'"

Perhaps also because it can be posed with and climbed on, sculpture is more susceptible to being cheapened, and that can reflect not only on an artist's work but also on the person or people it represents.

The sculpture's gravity and vulnerability took shape in my mind because of the awkwardness I felt. It lacked the distance of a painting. It was more relational.

The murals of the outdoor gallery include the “Chief Wapato Montage” and “St. Andrew's.”

Chief Wapato was an iconic Native American figure who had land on what is now Wapato Point along Lake Chelan.

Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church occupies a landmark log sanctuary originally constructed in 1898. Electric lighting has been added, the wiring concealed in wood pole light fixtures.

The "St. Andrews" mural looks over the alley from the parish hall behind the sanctuary.

Rev. Linda Mayer and her congregation welcomed me the second Sunday of Easter. I signed the guest book and sat down in a pew. The woman in the pew ahead shook my hand warmly and introduced herself. She later delivered the homily. Rev. Mayer invited me to join them in the parish hall for coffee and refreshments.

In his book, “Art: A New History,Paul Johnson writes, “Whether seeing quantities of fine art massed together in public collections is the best way of understanding art is debatable, and certainly it is a mistake to try and comprehend more than three or four—or at most half a dozen—works of high art at a time....the most judicious approach is to acquire a penetrative knowledge of one aspect of art, and on this basis develop a judgement which promotes a general capacity to evaluate quality....”

Johnson argues art “was closely associated with the ordering instinct which makes society possible, and that it has therefore always been essential to human happiness.” He returns to this theme throughout his history.

Applying Johnson's method, if not his conclusion, perhaps we could also say great art is relational; it engages viewers with something yet to be known.


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