by Gene Marrano
Retired Radford art professor Charlie Brouwer has a thing for ladders – you know, step ladders and the adjustable kind. He’s done several installation pieces that involve ladders and will put the next one together at the Taubman Museum of Art over the next few weeks.
You may have noticed a collection of ladders leaning against a railing outside the Taubman recently – that’s Brouwer’s way of letting passersby know he is still looking to borrow ladders from those in the community. Don’t worry he assures, you’ll get them back. Those ladders on the balcony are already “creating a dialogue” with the community, according to Brouwer.
“Rise up Roanoke” will start to take shape on February 25th in the atrium of the Taubman, using whatever donated ladders Brouwer has collected by then. It will depict the famed Mill Mountain star that can be seen from the second floor balcony at the Taubman; Brouwer hopes to build his star high enough so that art patrons can peer through or around the top of it to see the real star on the mountain. The exhibit opens on March 3. Brouwer hopes to have 200-300 ladders on hand before he starts building Rise up Roanoke.
The Michigan native has used ladders in his hometown of Holland, MI and in his adopted home, Floyd, in Winston-Salem, Grand Rapids (MI) and in St. Louis. “Anything has that potential to be moved into art,” said Brouwer of his fascination with ladders. “I’ve made lots of sculptures and drawings that included ladders in them. I like the symbolism associated with them. Its quite broad.”
Ladders can be used to fix things he reasons; there is also a spiritual aspect, as in Jacob’s Ladder. Ladders evoke dreams and achievement for Brouwer, but they have a risky side too – as in the potential to fall off. That risk is something people can identify with, since they often take risks in their careers or personal life. “I like that sort of vague symbolic [imagery],” said Brouwer.
He likes art that can move out of a gallery or museum and connect more closely with regular folks – who doesn’t have a ladder after all? Ladders also help build relationships said Brouwer: if you borrow one from a neighbor and give it back, “they feel more comfortable borrowing from you.” Borrowing ladders to help build his art piece is a logical extension of that relationship said Brouwer. Ladders that are not wanted back will be donated to a local non-profit that deals with home repair, like Habitat for Humanity.
Brouwer also likes being able to create art in the lower level atrium at the Taubman, where none of the regular collection can be exhibited due to insurance restrictions, because of flood plain issues. “I think its just a great step … for the museum [and] its relationship with the community. In that grand space that people walk in to, to have art happening there, its very nice.” There are other plans noted Brouwer, to use the atrium space for art projects. “I think it makes the museum more creative.”
Ladders can be dropped off at the Taubman Museum of Art (loading dock area on Norfolk Ave. at the back of the museum) on February 19 or 26 between 10 am and 5 pm. Lenders can also arrange for their ladder to be picked up by calling the museum at (540) 342-5760, or emailing [email protected] See riseuproanoke.com for more information.