By WILLIAM PAINE
The works of artist Charlie Brouwer have been popping up all over the place in the New River Valley. Brouwer, who was the creative force behind the Together We Rise: Pulaski ladder sculpture, has now embarked on another artistic endeavor aptly entitled: All Over he Place.
“It was just an idea that occurred to me,” said Brouwer of this latest exhibit. “I had a lot of sculptures looking for a place to be and I thought, ‘Why not have them all around home?’”
In total, there are 28 of Charlie Brouwer’s sculptures in as many locations throughout the New River Valley, including four that are currently on display in Pulaski County. His latest installation, Waiting for a Train of Thought, depicts a figure of a man sitting on a suitcase, in front of a stylized set of train tracks. This wooden image of a traveler appears to be pondering something as he rests in front of the Pulaski train depot.
“I’ve been doing a lot of human figures as outdoor sculptures and my idea is that I want people to sort of look their way and wonder, ‘What are they doing?’” Brouwer said. “They’re all doing something that can be seen as an ordinary human activity but they also have something about them that goes a bit beyond that.”
Waiting for a Train of Thought had been on display in Maryland and when that exhibition ended, Brouwer decided to try and find a new home for his sculpture. He’d become familiar with the Pulaski train depot when working on the Together We Rise: Pulaski ladder sculpture, which was on display in Jackson Park for the month of May. Brouwer then made arrangements through the Fine Arts Center to bring his wooden waiter to the train station.
“I like art that can communicate on a lot of different levels,” Brouwer stated. “In our language, we talk about losing our train of thought. So, it’s a common phrase. I also like the idea that Amtrak is thinking about expanding west. So that’s a nice thought as well. The depot here seemed like a great place for it. A train station. Why not?”
As Charlie stood in front of his sculpture, two bicyclists named Tad and Shly, came over to the statue to give it a look.
“Did you do the one around the duck pond in Blacksburg?” Asked Tad. “We’re from Blacksburg.”
“We recognized the style,” added Shly. “We love your work.”
Charlie then proceeded to tell them where to find other ‘All Over the Place’ sculptures, starting with ‘When the Stars Fall,’ which is located a few blocks away at the Calfee Community and Cultural Center on Corbin Harmon Drive.
When the Stars Fall stands at about 6 feet tall and depicts a dark figure bedecked with bright white stars.
“There’s an old spiritual song called ‘My Lord what a Morning,’” Brouwer said. “The line goes, ‘When the stars begin to fall’ … and it does have some Biblical reference. I’ve always liked that song. The Black Boys of Alabama have a really nice version of it and I pictured what that would be like. So, the idea of this figure came to mind and I made it a black figure so that the stars could stand out on it. But, of course, that song comes out of a black spiritual tradition and I just like all those connections. This sculpture been in a lot of different places. It’s been to Chattanooga. It was on exhibit in Maryland when I brought it back earlier this year. I hadn’t found a place for it until I met the person that was directing the Calfee Center.”
Charlie Brouwer funded his latest exhibition through the Gottlieb Foundation, which has a grant for artists who go through catastrophic situations.
“Most of my work and income as an artist came from renting sculptures to communities from Atlanta to up in New York,” Charlie explained. “So, I was paid rental fees. I brought a sculpture to a city for a year or two years and they paid me for that. When I lost my eyesight in September of last year, my daughters helped me write a grant for emergency assistance for artists. We got the grant and it was just a few thousand dollars but it’s helped. I was unable to drive, so my son-in-law has been my driver and assistant. So I just pay him the grant money. Without that, I couldn’t really afford to do it. So that gave me maybe the courage to think about doing this idea.”
The All Over the Place exhibit also includes a ‘Transportation Tryptic,’ which is a set of three transportation themed sculptures displayed inside Pulaski’s Raymond F. Ratcliff Memorial Transportation Museum.
“They were part of an exhibit called ‘Signs and Roads,’ that I did years ago at a commercial gallery up in Chicago,” said Brouwer of the Tryptic. “One of those is Mountain Road with the three crosses, two blue and one yellow, which is something we see all over our region. There’s another one in there called, ‘Trucks on the highway at Night in America.’ It’s an interstate kind of scene.”
Brouwer met April Danner, Coordinator of the Ratcliff Transportation Museum, as well as the Director of the Wilderness Road Regional Museum a few years ago.
“April is another contact I came across when I was looking for places for my sculptures,” Brouwer recounted. “Part of the idea of this is that these places are found by random connections.”
The Wilderness Road Regional Museum placed the sculpture entitled ‘Hallelujah’ in front of the old Courthouse/Gaol (jail) in Newbern. This sculpture consists of several ladders that seemingly sprout from a wooden house-like structure. Before coming to Newbern, the Hallelujah sculpture had been on exhibit in Atlanta’s ‘Beltline’ region.
“I thought it was kind of good with the courthouse and the jail and the word Hallelujah, associated with it,” Charlie opined. “The idea of home occurs in my work a lot, as well as ladders. Home represents safety and security. Ladders are all about taking risks and doing things beyond what we think we can do. So, when you got home and ladder together, you see both parts of our lives. We want to feel safe and secure, but we also want to take some risk and do something adventurous and try something … It’s only one life.”
Sculptures from Charlie Brouwer’s All Over the Place exhibition can be found in a variety of places ranging from the Glencoe Museum to the Bent Mountain Community Center to an art lover’s front yard. A complete list of locations for the All Over the Place sculptures can be found on Radford University’s Museum website. This is most appropriate, as Charlie Brouwer taught art at R.U. for several years.
“I’ve always tried to be an artist who is active in my own community, even though most of my work was taking me away from it,” said Brouwer. “That was because I could get paid for taking work further away but I always knew that I could do interesting things locally. It would be easy to do even though there wouldn’t be necessarily funding for it. So that’s behind this idea of placing them around the New River Valley. I could afford to do this for free but also would give me a stronger connection than my own region.”