April 22, 2012 — I like to hike. I do. Just not for its own sake. I like hiking when it has a definite destination…a life-changing view, a set of ruins, Dr. Livingstone. Otherwise, I often find hiking trails a bit monotonous. Tree, tree, rock, dude in a hockey mask, tree, tree, rock.
That’s why I really dig the Andres Institute of Art…which, I know, sounds like I’m changing the subject.
Located at the top of Big Bear Mountain in Brookline, NH, this art institute does all the usual things that art institutes do to support art. It just so happens that this particular one has surrounded itself with miles of woodland hiking trails covering 140 acres, all interspersed with some 70 different art installations.
Basically, at regular intervals along the institute’s 10 or so trails, stand large metal and stone sculptures that are either freestanding or created on an existing natural feature. Few are extremely complex or ostentatious, I assume both because the whole piece has to weather the elements for years and because nobody wants to look like a jerk up against the wonders of nature.
Each sculpture has a placard tacked to a nearby tree listing the artist, year of creation, and an explanation of the work. Many of the artists are international and pretty much all of them seem to be into abstract art.
That means a lot of the sculptures are of the befuddling type that don’t seem to immediately proclaim any meaning or, well, skill. A chunk of rock balanced just so-so on another, a random tangle of metal, a stone sculpture that looks like the artist never got around to finishing it. Sometimes the explanations can be more painful than the briars and shin splints you’ll encounter walking around, “This sculpture event is a monument to humankind’s relationship to the perpetual forces of eradication.” So, there’s that kind of stuff going on.
The hiking itself isn’t difficult. There are some steep hills here and there, but most of the individual trails are pretty short and often loop back to where you started. To get to the bulk of them you have to walk up a steep paved road for a little distance. It wasn’t too bad, though.
I’ve been to Andres a couple of times, but still haven’t done all the trails yet. I think somebody motivated enough and who didn’t care too much about contemplating art for too long could get them all done in one visit without trouble. Also, the online map seems to overestimate the time it takes to cover the individual trails, so that shouldn’t daunt anybody.
Oh, and the place is open year-round, dusk to dawn, and is absolutely free. So may your forests always be filled with sculpture.
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