“HEAVY METAL” – Not just a clever title!

While I’ve never considered myself to possess much, if any, artistic ability, I can say I’ve always been an appreciator of public art. The way it makes people feel, whether good or bad, evokes an emotional response, or compliments the environment that surrounds any given piece of art. After moving to Elkhart in 2015, I became immediately impressed by the area’s efforts toward public art, and in particular,
River Passageseveral sculptures I saw around town, including “River Passage”, a 14-foot stainless- steel beauty that sits at the corner of Johnson St. and Jackson Blvd. in Elkhart. The way the central feature, a shiny metallic heart, spun effortlessly in the breeze gave me a sense of place for the city of Elkhart. It’s a fitting piece, in a fitting place that helps tell a story and gives our town an added dimension of art and whimsy, to couple an entrepreneurial spirit that made Elkhart what it is today. The sculpture’s artist, John Mishler, has several fantastic pieces around town (and many around the country!), including another beautiful kinetic sculpture that sits in front of the Midwest Museum of American Art on Main Street.

While I knew that traveling and/or temporary art exhibitions would become a regular part of Wellfield’s programmatic repertoire, I never dreamed I’d be working shoulder to shoulder with such a renowned artist just two years from first seeing one of his sculptures on my new drive home. Just as many other botanic gardens around the country have realized, temporary exhibitions such as “Sculpture in the Gardens: HEAVY METAL featuring John Mishler”, presented by the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau give Wellfield the ability to attract larger, more diverse audiences with varied interests, to realize and further our important Mission.

The exhibit, which opens on Saturday, May 13 and remains through September will feature two of Mishler’s beautiful, large-scale sculptures accompanied by eight additional pieces created by his past students (did I mention Mishler teaches art and sculpture at Goshen College?). In detailing the logistics of the exhibit’s installation, the gravity of the situation didn’t truly set in until yesterday, when we relocated one of the pieces, “Iron Vortex”, by artist David Pauls, from the Goshen College campus to Wellfield… And I quickly realized why we included the phrase “HEAVY METAL” in the exhibit title! Fortunately, we had the aid of a forklift, carefully securing the sculpture as it was lowered from its vertical position to horizontal, driven carefully to an awaiting trailer for its journey before being reinstalled in reverse fashion at Wellfield on Wednesday afternoon. Iron Vortex is about 12 feet tall and weighs nearly 1000 pounds. My back is thankful for modern machinery!

While Iron Vortex’s sheer weight and top-heaviness were overcome, other sculptures’ variety of sizes and often-awkward shapes to transport present unique challenges to install. Ranging from several hundred pounds to over 1000, most pieces must be mounted to concrete bases, carefully leveled in pre-selected locations and secured with bolts to ensure the safety of both the piece and onlookers over the next five months. Being involved in this process is truly a privilege – – and it’s what excites me about each new day of my job as the Robert and Peggy Weed Executive Director – – no two days are ever alike!

We’ll keep you posted as the exhibit progresses, providing more stories and opportunities to bring the art to life! Don’t forget: Friday is National Public Gardens Day, Saturday is Goshen at the Gardens, and there are still some seats left for our Mother’s Day Luncheon on Sunday. It’s going to be a busy weekend – come enjoy with us!

See you in the Gardens,

-Eric Garton
Robert and Peggy Weed Executive Director

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