Q: What can you tell me about the new statue now in front of Belleville City Hall? Just driving by, it reminded me of one of those old cigar-store Indians standing there, but when I looked at it up close, the figure has Asian features. What’s the deal putting this in a supposedly Germanic city?
C.A., of Belleville
A: In his oft-praised “The Ballad of East and West,” famed English writer Rudyard Kipling concluded that although East and West are separated by great distance, all people can share friendship by recognizing one another’s wisdom, courage and creativity.
For the past 20 years, artist David Bryce apparently has taken this message to heart in laboring over his creations in his Fly Creek Studio, just west of Great Barrington, Mass. Mixing a variety of genres — Baroque and abstract expressionism as well as Asian — Bryce has added his own self-described “whimsical voice” to become a fan favorite at art shows around the country.
He probably needs a second studio just to show off his many awards. In the past couple of years alone, his sculptures have taken first place or best of show at the St. Louis Art Fair, the Laumeier Sculpture Park Art Fair and the Beaux Arts Festival in Miami, among others. At Belleville’s own renowned Art on the Square, he recently dominated the sculpture category with a first-place sweep from 2014 to 2016.
So it should come as no surprise that “The Magistrate,” purchased after the 2015 show, assumed its current place of honor once City Hall renovations were completed in October. While you seem to question the culture clash, Dede Farquhar says it is a better fit that you can imagine, considering the style used by renowned architect Charles E. King when he designed Belleville’s current government headquarters in 1957.
“The mid-century modern aesthetic was very drawn to the Asian,” said Farquhar, director of Art on the Square’s Sculpture in the City Program, which bought the piece. “The mid-century modern architects were looking at the minimalist sort of designs that were coming out of Asia and were very attracted to that. So the fact that this is a piece that has that sense we thought was a good match.”
Not only that, but the idea behind the sculpture itself is ideal for such a setting, Bryce told me.
“I hope ‘The Magistrate’ represents the best qualities of public service: leading responsibly in caring for the needs of all members of the community,” said Bryce, whose early career included operating a bronze foundry in New York City as well as working on architectural restoration projects in Central Park. “I had an interest in creating a large, vertical figure with a quiet, powerful presence. When ‘The Magistrate’ was seen at Art on the Square, there was a consensus that the sculpture would work well in the new City Hall setting.”
And whether they like it or not, Farquhar says she is heartened by people like you simply taking notice and talking about it. That’s the whole idea behind the Sculpture in the City Program, which has placed more than three dozen pieces around Belleville since its inception in 2007 — including the colorful kinetic piece by Andrew Carson that Belleville police officers fell in love with last spring and which now adorns the new department building at 720 W. Main St.
“We rarely land on a piece that everyone loves,” Farquahr acknowledged. “But I love the fact that people are talking about it. Pieces of art that stimulate conversation are always good.
“You know (Edgar) Degas’ ‘Little Dancer,’ perhaps one of the most popular sculptures of all time?” Farquhar said. “His ‘The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years’ was hated when she first appeared. In fact, Degas took his ‘Little Dancer’ after her terrible reception and put her into the back of a closet in his studio. She did not reappear until after his death when his heirs decided, ‘Oh, this is wonderful. Wouldn’t it be great to have her cast?’
“So they did and now there are over 20 Degas ‘Little Dancers’ in various museums around the world. So the fact that people are talking about it and perhaps going up to City Hall and taking a closer look and then perhaps being interested enough to go into City Hall and looking at the greater collection in there of the award winners over the years is all good.”
If you’d like to further familiarize yourself with Bryce and his work, which also features delicate Asian-influenced line drawings, go to flycreekstudio.com/gallery. While you’re at it, you might want to check out “China: Past and Present,” a photographic exhibit now through Friday at the Schmidt Art Center on the campus of Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville.
On which college campus would you find the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere (and fourth tallest in the world) dedicated to educational purposes?
Answer to Friday’s trivia: At birth, he was christened Hal Chapman Wingo III. But since he was third in the family line, he eventually took the nickname “Trey,” from “treis,” an alternate form of the French “trois,” meaning “three.” Now the 54-year-old sports journalist has joined Mike Golic as the new co-host of the former “Mike & Mike” morning show on ESPN, having worked his way up from a stint at KSDK-TV in St. Louis from 1991 to 1997. He is the son of Hal C. Wingo Jr., who was hired as a senior editor by Time Inc. when the company launched People magazine with actress Mia Farrow on the cover on March 4, 1974.