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Natick - Local Town Pages

Studios Without Walls

By Sean Sullivan

For a few short weeks more, art aficionados and amblers alike will be treated to a constellation of creativity along a stretch of Natick’s Cochituate Rail Trail.

The outdoor exhibit was produced by Studios Without Walls, an organization that works to bring down the barriers between art and a public that otherwise might miss out.

Artist Bette Ann Libby was in Maine in early September when we spoke over the phone about the installation, soon to make the trek south to participate in installing art.     

“I feel like it’s giving a gift to the community,” she said. “It’s a nice way to engage family and friends. Just get a little perspective on life and what sculpture is.”

Studios Without Walls is somewhat of a misnomer. Much of the art is fabricated inside those safe spaces of creativity, so that materials (and artists) stay beyond the reach of fickle New England weather. Tough to focus on creativity when heat and humiditysoar, and heavy summer rains roll in seemingly at whim.

Still, the artists were out installing their creations early last month, when a heat wave rolled in to usher in September. Thankfully, much of Cochituate Rail Trail is still sheltered by shade well into late summer and beyond.

The art installation is situated along a Natick stretch of the CRT between Superior Drive and Chrysler Road. Natickians who reside south of Route 9 can bike or walk to the CRT, then cross its bridge over that highway. From there, it’s not long before one begins to encounter installations that comprise the constellation dubbed “the sum of its pARTS.”   

“We started out small, 24 years ago,” said Ann Libby of the organization that brought the exhibit to fruition. Since then, Studios Without Walls has grown more sophisticated. The institution now has a curatorial committee, a group concerned with ensuring each showing has a discernible and logical thread or idea running through and uniting all its pieces.

“You want a flow and you want everything to work together,” said Ann Libby.

That common theme might be said to have an ecological bent, right at home among CRT’s green borders and sprawling bodies of water that neighbor it. Ann Libby’s own contribution to the exhibit is entitled “Hello Earth,” a work inspired by photographs taken of the “pale blue dot” from outer space. 

That latter phrase was popularized by scientist Carl Sagan’s 1990 book, inspired by an image captured of earth in which the planet appears in the vast distance as a speck of sun-warmed and illuminated dust among the cold debris of space.

The idiom also appears in the title of another work adorning the CRT, named “A PIECE OF THE IMMENSE UNIVERSE - THE BLUE DOT,” rendered by artists Gail Bos and Marnie Sinclair.

Other sculptures and paintings bring the beholder back down to earth, among the flora and fauna that populate the planet.

Anne Alexander’s offering is “Blue Gastropods,” ode to the group of animals that counts snails, slugs and sea hares among its members.

Called “site responsive sculpture” in it literature, the exhibit’s ecological spirit is meant to mirror and pay homage to its environs.

“To my mind,” said Ann Libby, “you can’t beat mother nature when it comes to patterns and colors.” 

Studios Without Walls is a travelling tableau of art, relocating its exhibitions to various locales to enhance exposure. Before coming to Natick, “the sum of its pARTS” could be viewed astride the tributary of Brookline’s Riverway Park, where it resided for most of the summer. The current exhibit will be on display until October 15th.

In its own right, the Cochituate Rail Trail has become platform to somewhat of a moveable feast in Natick’s cultural fabric. On December 31st last year, the well-trodden trail welcomed Natickians to usher in 2023, hosting a NYE celebration with a string of late-night fire pits and other festivities.

Studios Without Walls worked with the Natick Center Cultural District, friends of the CRT, and a group of local sponsors to bring the exhibit to life.

“I’ve done a lot of community art organizing over the years,” said Ann Libby. “I’m just very proud and kind of surprised that I get to do this.” 

Art that adorns these outdoor canvases is the work of veteran painters and sculptors, and newcomers to the art scene. One piece in the current exhibit was created by students at Wayland’s Loker Elementary School.

That the art is featured outdoors in common spaces, said Ann Libby, makes for an informal and welcoming exhibit. Indoor galleries and shows, she added, can be intimidating to casual consumers of creativity.

“It creates a feeling of inclusivity. We want to bring people together.”