“How about over there?” a voice calls from further up the hill. “Does that look okay?”
I’m on Rabbit Hill to see a new collaborative art installation created by the Middletown Art Center and the Lake County Land Trust. Almost four years ago, the Valley Fire ripped its way down Cobb Mountain, blackening Rabbit Hill and taking several houses around it. The water tower’s still there, and it squats on the top, surrounded by charred brush and dotted with blackened trees poking upward like porcupine spines.
“Are these too far apart?” another voice calls. White sticks dot the hillside. One shakes as someone adjusts it yet another time. Artist Emily Schiebal wedges a rock against a different piece to help stabilize it. I look up the hill; interspersed between the blackened trunks of burned trees totems have risen, each individually envisioned and designed.
“Okay, everyone come down and take a look,” Lisa Kaplan, Director of the MAC, shouts. People begin sliding down the rocky, red dirt slope to the road, where artist Marcus Maria Jung stands pointing up towards a piece, comparing it against the steep incline of the hill.
“I don’t think the duct tape worked,” Melissa Kinsel, Outreach Coordinator for the Lake County Land Trust, tells Marcus. The sole of her boot flops helplessly to one side, ripped duct tape lining the edges. She and her daughter have spent the day in the brush, aligning the poles, digging in the rock-filled soil.
“That’s too bad,” Marcus replies.
“I think they’ve reached the end of their life,” Melissa shrugs, then shakes her foot. The half-connected sole wiggles against the ground.
As they bemoan the loss of a good pair of boots, Lisa Kaplan steps up to the group, her large sunhat stretching toward her shoulders. “Okay, okay. Everybody, let’s take a look at what we’ve done,” she begins. “How do we feel about it?”
“This one’s too far apart,” someone says.
“Those look good,” another adds. A short discussion begins.
As the last of the group scuffs their way down the hillside, they all turn and look up the brushy slope. Instead of bleakness, burned and black, light rises upward, each totem stretching towards the spring blue sky.
“Vertical Pathways,” the group named the installation. It’s collaborative art at its best, where each person becomes part of a collective mind, functioning as a cell in a larger creative organism. This process started with a field trip to the site at the first of five RESTORE classes focused on creating an art installation at Rabbit Hill. Emily Schiebal, Marcus Maria Jung, and Lisa Kaplan all worked together, teaching classes and working with participants to not just decide the location of the installation on Rabbit Hill, but also the style and type of art to be installed. It’s not an easy task to consolidate the ideas of the many into one piece, but the artists and participants moved from diffuse to specific in a matter of months.
Everyone’s looking at the hillside. Some sip on water. Lisa takes a few pictures to commemorate the historic moment. Back in wintertime, Lisa shared the initial idea of Rabbit Hill at a RESTORE class. “We all have ideas,” she told everyone. “Our teaching artists have ideas. You have ideas. And ideas fertilize each other.”
Those ideas are coming to fruition this very moment.
If you want to experience the beauty of collaborative artwork working to bring together the community of Middletown, come to the opening reception at Rabbit Hill (21281 Stewart St. in Middletown) this Friday, May 17, from 5 to 7 pm.
For more details about the collaborative aspect of the “Vertical Pathways” installation, look here.
Rabbit Hill has a long history in Middletown. If you’re interested in finding out more about Huck and Skee Hamann and the years they spent on Rabbit Hill along with Middletown’s own murder mystery, read this article by local historian Nina Bouska.