Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

SMC collaborates with Dogwood

04/03/2014 - 1pm
Megan Collins

Beauty matters.

That’s the essence of Southwestern Michigan College Professor Emeritus David Baker’s April 2 presentation.

Megan Collins of Dowagiac, graduating in May from SMC’s graphic design program, accompanied Baker to Dowagiac Area History Museum.

For an internship, she worked with the city and Dogwood Fine Arts Festival to create an interactive link detailing 15 sculptures, eight sculptors, walking tour maps, YouTube videos, Facebook and Quick Response (QR) code.

The barcode of square black dots arranged on a white background can be read by a smartphone “so you can have this entire thing in your pocket as you walk around town,” said Baker, who has taught art at SMC for 33 years.

Baker serves on Dogwood’s Visual Arts Committee.

He told Tuck Langland, creator of Dance of Creation, Resting Dancer, On with Life in memory of Millie Burling and Solitude for Thelda Mathews, who attended, that the 1995 Farr Park figure remains his favorite.

Dance of Creation “stands on the edge of womanhood, reaching out but holding back, eager but not quite sure. Tiptoes give her gesture more yearning.”

Some consideration was given to making 2012’s Abundant Happiness by Richard Taylor blue instead of yellow fabricated aluminum.

John Mishler’s 2009 Wind Song outside the middle school Performing Arts Center is a 17-foot kinetic mobile.

“When the wind is right, it turns in opposite directions,” Baker said.

Mountain View happens to be the road Nina Akamu lives on in New York, as well as the title of her whimsical 2005 animals stacked outside Dogwood headquarters.

Rosetta’s 2002 Stone Lion is bronze. Its name refers to a Colorado bookstore, not its material.

Her 2009 Cheetahs on the Run Baker considers the best siting because three big cats for African traveler Helen Tremble appear to be racing high-speed trains.

Public art “is not a game for the faint of heart,” Baker said. “When you take something that hits close to your soul and hang it out to let everyone take a shot, you open yourself to all sorts of naysayers and nitpickers. Our collection was given to us, funded entirely by private donations.

“Dowagiac’s public sculptures say we are a community that believes in beauty, imagination and aspires to be all we should. Our public sculptures tell the world the definition of Dowagiac is not limited to our Potawatomi heritage, Round Oak stoves, the college, the football team or dance. Direct encounters with art are the right and responsibility of all citizens — not just the privileged.”

Virginia Mecklenburg, senior curator of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, said as Dowagiac, on May 14, 2007, dedicated Bob Guelich’s Dawn Sentinels outside Donald Lyons Health Center, “I don’t know of any other town your size that has a program to acquire sculpture. You probably have more public sculpture per capita than anywhere in the country.”

Despite “sensational” sales, such as Indiana Historical Society auctioning original watercolor drawings by John James Audubon for $3.77 million, “Artists I know aren’t motivated by that,” Baker said. “If you’re a teenage girl writing poetry in your room, you’re an artist.”

Ditto for a guy learning new electric guitar licks or the woman combing fabric store swatches for her granddaughter’s quilt.

Baker defines art as “skilled original work that arouses an aesthetic response.”

A J.D. Salinger story states, ‘I cannot think of a single reason not to be an artist, other than you’re going to constantly be slightly unhappy” because “perfection is an elusive goal.”

“Without beauty in our lives,” Baker said, “we become a race of automatons groveling for money and power. Creativity, imagination and innovation, which we prize, are best taught through the arts.”

He recalled a “60 Minutes” interview with a Japanese education minister. Japan’s student scores exceeded America’s, but “your system produced 64 Nobel Prizes, ours one.”

“That’s worth remembering when anyone talks about eliminating art from schools,” Baker said. “Art serves as a refuge to nurse our wounds and soothe our souls after the chaos of the world. Powerful art inspires us to live in a world of conviction. Challenging art makes us wrestle with ideas and keeps us from falling into intellectual sloth.”

Baker highlighted the Soldiers and Sailors Vermont granite monument removed from City Hall to Burke Park in 1995.

It cost $6,000 in 1908 — $157,000 today.

Local resident Isaac Rutherford designed it.

Ten thousand people attended its dedication, with 108 Civil War veterans marching in a parade.

Keynote speaker William Alden Smith, a Dowagiac native, as a U.S. Senator presided over hearings on the April 15, 1912, Titanic sinking.