September 5, 2010

Life's a PICNIC

Sculptor Wade Kavanaugh is working on a public art project at Peaks-Kenny State Park in Dover-Foxcroft.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

DOVER-FOXCROFT - As a kid, Wade Kavanaugh came to Peaks-Kenny State Park on Sebec Lake for family outings.

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Wade Kavanaugh is working on a series of picnic tables that interact with the natural terrain at Peaks-Kenny State Park. He poses with a completed table near the entrance to the park.

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Wade Kavanaugh checks the fit of a table that will use as part of its base one of the huge glacial boulders that dot the park.

Additional Photos Below

Those were happy times, filled with frolicking in the water and exploring the hemlock forests and huge glacial rock formations that tumble out of the earth and give the park its spooky character.

His mom still has a photo of him as a youngster at the beach. It's one of those precious family photos, forever on view in a prominent place in her home because of the memories associated with it.

So when Kavanaugh learned that Peaks-Kenny was seeking proposals for the first-ever public art project at the park, he was immediately interested.

"In fact, my mom was the one who sent me the posting for this opportunity," said Kavanaugh, who grew up in Winthrop and lives in Albany Township, south of Bethel. "I'd never done a public project before. It's fun to do something relatively local and safe, and something I know."

Kavanaugh, a Bowdoin College-trained sculptor, usually works in grand scale, creating large interior installations that invite viewers to consider their relationships with natural and man-made architecture. Typically, he transforms gallery spaces into caves, forests and glacial floes. That was his motif during the 2009 Portland Museum of Art biennial, when he built a huge indoor wall from false bricks made out of tiny slices of Sheetrock.

For the Peaks-Kenny project, Kavanaugh is turning that concept upside down. He is working small, and doing everything he can to not interfere with people's enjoyment of the park's natural beauty.

"I do not want to subtract from anything that is going on here," he said.


Kavanaugh is making a series of oddly shaped and unlikely situated picnic tables. Using the same materials that park employees use to build traditional picnic tables, Kavanaugh is making table-and-bench units that tuck alongside boulders and around trees.

One of the first ones he completed appears to emerge from a massive rock. He built only a small portion of the table, allowing the imagination of visitors to complete the structure. In another, a large tree grows right through a cutout in the bench.

These are fully functional tables and benches, designed to lead park visitors into what Kavanaugh calls "the park's natural architecture."

In all, he will build a dozen of the tables. The project is called "Quarry," and park manager Carter Smith says Peaks-Kenny will eventually publish a map with icons of the tables so that visitors can seek them out. Many will be hidden in the dark forest, and will not be obvious to folks casually hiking by.

"We don't want these to be another bunch of tables for people to barbecue on. We've got enough of those already," Smith said. "People come to this park for a lot of reasons. Some come for recreation, for picnics, for family time. Others come seeking solace and to connect with nature and the natural wonder of this place."

Kavanaugh's tables and benches will give the latter group a different opportunity to find what they are seeking. When they locate the picnic tables and sit at them, they will find themselves up close and personal with the park's naturally occurring beauty in ways they likely have never before, Smith said.

"It's kind of a special feeling to sit beside something this close, rather than just pass by," said Smith, standing at the table that is built into the rock.


The trick in Kavanaugh's project is its lack of imposition.

One of things he struggled with when devising his concept for the project was the realization that people do not come to Peaks-Kenny -- or any park, for that matter -- for art experiences. Certainly, he and his family did not when they came up for outings, nor does he today when he camps.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Wade Kavanaugh works on one of his picnic-table creations at Peaks-Kenny State Park.

Photos by Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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A finished table is dwarfed by a glacial erratic. Wade Kavanaugh is placing the tables in such places as to put people physically closer to the things they come to the park to enjoy.


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