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Wittenberg Professor Emeritus Of Art Leaves Mark On Community

September 6, 2011  
 Filed in Arts and Culture, Community

Springfield, Ohio – As the Labor Day holiday weekend unfolded, travelers in and around Whitehall, Mich., likely caught a glimpse of Wittenberg University Professor Emeritus of Art George Ramsay’s artwork in the old-fashioned small town located five miles from the Lake Michigan coastline.

Ramsay’s latest public work, titled Sailboat/Trees in Whitehall, was created using two of the main visual elements of the White Lake area between Whitehall and Montague, Mich., in Muskegon County.

“The timeline for the complete project describes what a small community can do if they all work together,” Ramsay said. “Seven years ago The Arts Council of White Lake started a program of public art along the extensive bike trails that course the cities.

“Because of limited funds, most of the accepted artworks were small­er in scale than one would suppose public art needs to be. I realized that if I donated my commission, the cost of a large piece of public art could be within reach of their budget.”

But it wasn’t that easy.

“My work tends to be very abstract and this is a conservative rural community,” Ramsay said. “Most concepts I liked, I knew they wouldn’t, and conversely, most concepts they would like, I wouldn’t.”

Ramsay actually spent years thinking about this problem before an idea took hold.

“I was walking across the bridge between the two cities when I noticed that the sailboats in the marina had the same silhouette as the trees along the shore…Bingo! This became the theme for my large public sculpture.”

At 22 feet tall, the all-aluminum, powder-coated finish sculpture stands in Covell Park along land and lake. Viewed from one side, the primary colors and stripes of sailboats are evident, and from the other side, the stems and leaf forms reflect trees. The colors used for Sailboat/Trees are based on the four seasons as the tree side shows spring, summer, fall and winter. On the sailboat side, these same colors are used along with bright red to remind passers-by of a regatta. In addition the blue serves to remind viewers of the summer sky and water, as well as winter’s chill.

The placement of the artwork in a local recreation area along the Hart Montague Bike Trail completes Ramsay’s conceptual vision for both cars and users of the trail.

“A big part of my concept is that the site must take advantage of the work’s unique kinetic quality, which causes it to change dramatically when viewed from one side to the other. The viewer must accept they are looking at either sailboats or trees but not both together. As you drive west into Montague, you see the sailboats, and as you drive east toward Whitehall, you see the trees: two local visual themes fused into one public artwork,” Ramsay explained.

Supported by private money, pledges and in-kind services by the cities, Sailboat/Trees has become the signature of the Lake Michigan community.

“What is most grati­fying is that the whole community has embraced this piece as their own,” said Ramsay, who, along with his wife, spends six months living in Michigan with the other six in Arizona.

“Since retiring from Wittenberg, my life has been planned around the two places I live during the year – one being the cottage on Lake Michigan where I have a large studio and continue to pursue my interest in combining computer art with more traditional art media. I often lecture at the Muskegon Museum of Art and have participated in its regional show several times,” Ramsay said.

“Although I have a studio in Arizona, my wife and I spend much of our time visiting museums, going to concerts and enjoying the ‘urban life’ of Scottsdale/Phoenix. Over the years I have lectured many times at The Phoenix Art Museum, The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and for a local cultural group, Spirit of the Senses.”

Written By: Phyllis Eberts
Photo submitted

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