Protector of the setting sun

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Sculpture Without Walls waxes philosophical

MOSES LAKE A basalt angel stands sentinel in Neppel Park, facing the west to guard the setting sun, or so the story goes.

"Gabriel's Whisper" is one of the numerous sculptures that are included in the current Sculpture Without Walls exhibit. The sculpture was created by artist Anthony Kaufmann, who grew up in Moses Lake.

"I deal with spiritual figures a lot and I wanted to use a figure people could recognize and relate to," said Kaufmann of using the Archangel Gabriel. "The sculpture faces west because Gabriel is the guardian of the western setting sun."

Kaufmann, who now resides in Seattle, works almost exclusively with stone in his sculpture and discusses his work as though it were a passionate love affair. In fact, he describes it as one.

"I'm pretty focused on the basalt. It's hard work and I wouldn't do it if I didn't love it," Kaufmann said.

The fascination Kaufmann has with basalt has as much to do with his early geological aspirations as it does with growing up in this area, where it is impossible to set foot outside and not see basalt somewhere.

His mother and grandmother were rock hounds and as a child Kaufmann would go rock picking with them. It was those early rock picking expeditions that sparked his first curiosity about the local stone. From those early beginnings, Kaufmann was further inspired by an instructor during his stint at Big Bend Community College.

"Geologically, the Moses Lake area basalt is very impressive," said Kaufmann. "The epic creation of the basalt through the great floods gave the stone a crystalline quality that is unique to that area."

Kaufmann's wealth of knowledge about his subject is staggering. The familiarity with the material he works with gives him a better understanding of the shapes that can be coaxed from it and the best way to show off the natural beauty of the stone. It also gives him the opportunity to take advantage of the facets of the basalt that few people would consider.

The front of "Gabriel's Whisper" shows the basalt polished down to a fine sheen. "It takes nine and a half hours to polish one square foot of columnar basalt," Kaufmann said.

In direct opposition to the darkness of most of the sculpture, is the green onyx halo that is placed behind the head of the sculpture.

"There is a juxtaposition of light and dark. Light goes through the onyx and is repulsed by the basalt," said Kaufmann. "It is symbolic of enlightenment."

The sculpture itself is the only interactive piece the exhibit offers and is in two parts. There is a seating bench and a bell that emits an almost inaudible ringing that sounds like a breathy whisper.

"Gabriel is the bringer of sacred wisdom," said Kaufmann. "The bell has to do with that curiosity and intuitiveness. The ringing is a surprise, but it doesn't have to be listened to."

"Gabriel's Whisper" inspires a quietude that is impressive given it's location so close to the street; it is safely tucked behind the Hive and sponsored by Robert M. Trask Agency, Inc.

As a piece of art, it looks a little rough from the backside until you start to think about it's placement in an agricultural community. The harder you look, the more apt you are to see a piece of farm equipment and an even closer inspection will reveal that the bolts holding the structure beneath the stone together are two different sizes.

"It looks a bit like an ear of corn, there's the suggestion of a plough too," said Kaufmann. "It has a lot to do with farm equipment and mechanics."

Kaufmann's parents farm in the area and he envisioned the bits and pieces of farm life coming through in this sculpture. "The two different bolt sizes, and having them exposed, is an example of making do with what you have," Kaufmann said.

Another small suggestion within the sculpture is the merest hint of wings. The first impression is not one of jarring, giant wings but of wing-like stumps.

"I wasn't looking to make an angel," said Kaufmann. "I was looking for the interaction and feeling."

When Kaufmann is not hustling from his workshop to funding meetings and back, he is building gardens and working on public projects to pay the bills.

"I am slowly weaning myself off the garden building," said Kaufmann. "The drawback to public art is that it takes so long. All the decisions are made by a committee."

Kaufmann hopes to progress in his sculpting to the extent that he will not have to rely on other work.

Of his participation in Sculpture Without Walls, Kaufmann said, "I think the exhibit shows a lot of the evolution of Moses Lake. I left, in part, because there was no real interest in art (when I was here)."

"Gabriel's Whis-per" and all the other sculptures in the exhibit are available for public viewing any time. At the end of the year-long exhibit, one of the sculptures will be chosen by tallying the votes of the public and that sculpture will be purchased to remain in Moses Lake's art collection.

For more information about Anthony Kaufmann's sculpture, visit his Web site

For more information about Sculpture Without Walls, contact Ann Golden at the Moses Lake Museum and Art Center at (509) 766-9395.

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