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The town of Stowe has the annual outdoor art exhibit "Exposed" which continues through the summer. Frankly, I've never been able to cultivate much of an appreciation for modern sculpture, in spite of my mother's best efforts to the contrary. When I was a child my bedroom was decorated in blue rose buds, Picasso prints, and Degas statues. My father ruefully noted my mother was a master at placing a $5 print in a $50 frame, and I've inherited a good portion of the collection. Thus I am able to maintain a thin illusion of culture in my home by hanging this stuff around and about.

While the town of Stowe has its annual outdoor art exhibit, we up here in Mansfield have a bi-annual art exhibit of our own. We don't make a fuss about it, you won't find listed under Mixed Media in the exhibits section of the local papers, but the arrival of the trucks for the annual installation is a good excuse to pause in our labors and enjoy the show. Fact is, we almost prefer watching the installation to enjoying the art itself, although the completed work will be viewed by many visitors through the summer until it is finally taken down during the first snow storm.

So last week, when we heard the rumble of the trucks coming up to deliver this season's creation, we stood on the grassy bank to watch Larry Foster grade our road.

Larry Foster handles earth moving equipment with the sensitivity of a potter working soft clay. With a grader or backhoe, Mr. Foster carves earth. Gears grind, the claw stretches forward, nibbling here, patting there, smoothing, until a perfect ditch emerges out of the chaos. With careful passes our road is neatly crowned, ditches carefully constructed, exhaust-system-eating rocks tumbled under the machine to be deposited where they'll do no harm. It is one of the highlights of the summer to watch our road being restored; it is sculpture on a grand scale, with the privilege of watching a consummate artist at work. It is power, finesse, dust, smoke, and a perfectly laid out work of useful art when he leaves.

And as art, it is grossly underappreciated. Earth, we've discovered in our own battles with it, is a notoriously difficult medium to work with. It bumps up where you don't want it to bump, it spits rocks at you, and it turns at intervals soupy, slippery, or impossibly solid. The simple act of leveling out a space to stack wood can turn into a multi-day project as rocks pop out creating holes, and holes sink creating stack-tipping dips. As amateur earth artists, we've managed to achieve one small flat spot, several ungainly piles of rocks, and multiple mounds of earth, none of which display the right soil structure or characteristics for any project at hand. At least any project we can reasonably be expected to tackle.

In a few hours, Larry Foster creates road out of ruts, rock, and dust. Not only is it marvelously impressive to watch art created, it is deeply humbling. It takes years of practice to achieve this level of finesse, hours upon hours in bone cracking cold, years of breathing in road dust, to gain mastery over this particular medium.

We up here on the hill greet this summer display of artistry with considerably more enthusiasm than we are able to muster for the rocks, wood, and steel which taken together form the "Exposed" exhibit. They lack the drama, scope, and sheer size of our sculpted work. And while they are, possibly, inspirational in their own right, I would argue our display is far more provocative.

When I look at art I expect to see an object which required skill and vision to create. If I could create something similar by dashing together a few materials, it isn't art. It is something: an interesting object, or a heap of trash, depending on your point of view, but it isn't art. Up here in the town of Mansfield, we're living with a lovely example of earth art. Come up and see it.

A few moments of absorbing this spectacle might remind you of the importance of the unsung craftsmen who work for our community. The artists who carve earth, move snow, and maintain order in everything from our libraries to our septic systems. The artists who leave their own families in storm and dead of night to keep us safe.

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Stories From a Vermont Life:

Camilla Blue
Frozen Gifts
Making Wreaths
Shearing
Hobblewood
Flush
The Fourth of July
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The Farm at Morrison Corner raises Icelandic Sheep on the last hill farm in Mansfield, VT.  Learn about Raising Icelandic Sheep, Raising Chickens, Moving to Vermont and Living in Vermont on this and our other sites.

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