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

(Continued from page 1)

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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

He wanted to design something that integrated art concepts into the park experience without being overt. On that front, he succeeded.

His picnic tables are not obvious or obtrusive. They are designed to complement nature and bring attention to specific park features. Kavanaugh has no intention of trying to improve the park's beauty or impose high-minded art ideas on people's park experience.

He wants to make their park experiences more tangible by placing the picnic tables in such places to put people physically closer to the things they come to the park to enjoy.

Kavanaugh's picnic tables delete what he calls "the social space" that exists between the benches of traditional picnic tables. That space between the benches is a void, where people place their cook stove, food and eating utensils. Kavanaugh's benches have no void. Instead, they have rocks and trees.

The tables are fully functional. They are oddly shaped, and sometimes awkwardly located. But there's nothing to prevent someone from sitting down and eating lunch.

At least during the early stages of his construction, which will continue into the fall, Kavanaugh camped in the park. He wanted to be there day in and day out, to fall into the rhythm of the park's natural cycle. He also wanted to observe how people used the park, so that he could make better and more informed choices about how and where to build his tables.

Throughout the process of construction, Kavanaugh has also come to terms with what public art is all about. He's seen a lot of public art projects fail because they fall short of their goals. "They may have been a gem of an idea, but they have no access point. People could not relate," he said.

He thinks -- he hopes -- that "Quarry" will succeed because his access points are universal. Everybody can relate to the idea of a picnic table, he said.


Smith sat on the panel that chose Kavanaugh for the project. It included several representatives of the Bureau of Parks and Lands, which administers the parks, as well as artist Alan Bray and Elizabeth Finch, a curator at Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville.

The Peaks-Kenny project is a big step for the Bureau of Parks and Lands, said deputy director Alan Stearns. The $20,000 budget was paid for through the state's Percent for Art program, which requires that a percentage of public investment be set aside for art. In 2007, voters approved a $7.5 million bond package for the state park system.

That meant $75,000 was earmarked for public art. In addition to the Kavanaugh project at Peaks-Kenny, the Bureau of Parks and Lands collaborated with the Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium to place a sculpture at Lamoine State Park down east.

Most of the bond money is being used for capital investments throughout the park system, Stearns said. Bath houses and picnic shelters are the most common kinds of improvements.

The parks bureau wanted the art to be completely separate from the capital investment project, Stearns said. "Rather than put stained-glass windows in a bath house, we decided to do something unique. We do not need art in an outhouse," he said.

Stearns praised Kavanaugh for his pragmatic approach. His materials are exactly what the park uses already, and there is nothing lavish or precious about what he is making. If they rot, they can be replaced. If they get vandalized, they can be painted.

Further, the tables are designed, as much as possible, to be accessible for folks in wheelchairs. And perhaps most important, they should be a magnet for kids. They are fun, playful and whimsical, Stearns said.

"I was interested in the interaction of kids with whatever piece we commissioned," he said. "I'm hopeful this piece will be all about park users touching, feeling, using and being excited about what they find when they get to the park."


Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:


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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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