Finding the big stick

Pictured above: “Entropic Flow,” by Jim Toia, at the South Mountain Reservation Sculpture Park, West Orange, NJ … more on this later.

I was at Brookdale Park yesterday, getting some exercise, when I passed a little boy and his babysitter, walking on the path around the park. Just as I was passing them around the point photographed below (on East Circuit Drive, to the right of the big open field, for those in the know), I heard the babysitter say, “yes, that is a big stick.” There had probably been 100 people walk by this same stick without anyone paying any attention to it, but to this kid, it was a special find, and he had taken joy in discovering it.

boy playing with stick in Brookdale Park in Montclair NJ

I thought, in some ways, this kid’s action is related to what I am doing with The Arts Adventurer. My eye is drawn towards things that might be easy to miss, and I take joy in finding art where one might not expect to find it. I like to share these things and hopefully encourage others to look at their surroundings a little more-closely, to find and enjoy things of visual interest that can bring some inspiration to one’s day.

I’m reading a book right now which has been pretty interesting: Pivot, by Adam Markel. He wrote a passage that resonated with me: “As we grow older, the logistics of life change. We fall into a world that is driven not by the wonder of discovery – the whys and what-ifs of life – but by the hows.”

I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of a world driven by the wonder of discovery. This kid had it, and I don’t see any reason to give it up as we get older. Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” I think he was expressing the same idea.

With that said, let’s go back to the picture at the top of the page. I saw this at the Sculpture Park in South Mountain Reservation in West Orange, near the dog park and the wildflower preserve. Except when I first saw it, I didn’t realize it was part of the sculpture park, I just figured it was a funky-looking fallen tree with a lot of branches that hadn’t been picked up by the grounds crew yet. I’ll bet that a lot of people probably walk past it and think the same thing. But when I looked at it just a little bit longer, I realized that there was something unusual about this tree, something that wasn’t right, and I went in for a closer look. You can see what I saw in the slideshow below:

  • Jim Toia, Entropic Flow
  • Jim Toia, Entropic Flow
  • Jim Toia, Entropic Flow
  • Jim Toia, Entropic Flow
  • Jim Toia, Entropic Flow
  • Jim Toia, Entropic Flow
  • Jim Toia, Entropic Flow

The artist, Jim Toia, is a studio art lecturer and the director of the community-based teaching program at Lafayette College in Easton, PA. Mr. Toia has been making art since the mid-1980s, when he graduated from Bard College in Annadale-on-Hudson, NY. He considers himself a nature-obsessed artist, and says: “I keep it simple because I’m trying to find a way to present what nature has already done for us. The goal is to preserve it and capture it.”

In regards to this particular sculpture, it was inspired by the skeletons of creatures in the New Jersey State Museum’s Natural History exhibition hall. The artist says: “I was looking at all these beautiful animals that are preserved here, and I thought they have this relationship to trees in a way we normally wouldn’t think of. Nature repeats itself, from the cosmological order to rivers and streams and sedimentary flow down to backbones and scapula and the way trees are structured. It’s enthralling to me.”

(Credit for the biographical info on Jim Toia and his quotes comes from a review in the NY Times)