Whitman Littlefield ’11 was awarded second place in the Arts and Entertainment writing category for this year’s New York State Associated Press awards (for material published between June 1, 2009 and May 31, 2010). Littlefield has interned at the Finger Lakes Times, in Geneva, for the past two summers and it was an article he wrote for the paper, “Hidden Gallery” for which he won the award.
The Arts and Entertainment category included entries representing, “A single profile, interview, trend story or feature on any arts and entertainment topic, including movies, theater, music, opera, dance, art, architecture, television and literature.” The emphasis of the award program is on quality of writing.
“Getting second place in the New York State AP writing competition was awesome,” says Littlefield. “After the phone call from the editor of the Finger Lakes Times I took a deep breath and grinned. I suddenly felt a little bit of that weight I had been carrying around with me lift. Now I have a little bit of faith that I can survive the post-grad world.”
In the photo above Littlefield is working for the Colleges’ radio station WEOS as they covered Sarah Palin’s visit to Auburn, N.Y.
Littlefield’s winning article follows.
The Finger Lakes Times
GENEVA – Side Show is famous for its cheap drinks, classic rock and, of course, owners “Ma” and Gary.
But there is one feature that most of the Exchange Street bar’s customers don’t get to see: Side Show’s sideshow.
Sometimes, if the night is just right, Gary Carlson, normally a quiet, pleasant bartender, will lean over with a twinkle in his eye and a casual question:
“Have you seen the Side Show Metropolitan Museum?”
Accepting the offer means a trip to the basement, where Carlson keeps his strange collection.
Down on the concrete floor, surrounded by empty bottles, are heaps of knick knacks and an elaborate array of kegs trussed together by what seems like miles of tubing.
“I like junk,” says Carlson, clearly not kidding. “I like stuff.”
As your eyes adjust to the dimmer basement light, they also begin to register what Carlson calls “impertinent artwork that’s a little off center.” His Web site, Artgutz.com, which his daughter designed, describes it as found object art.
Carlson is quick to show off his newest creation, Bat Boy, which has a bicycle seat for a face, tiny toddler sneakers for feet and an expertly cut umbrella for wings. As you come to grips with what exactly you’re looking at, Carlson leans over and says: “Let me tell you one thing. When you cut the first strut off an umbrella, all hell breaks loose!”
Carlson has been collecting odd bits of junk “just about forever.”
“I’ve always been a very active pack rat,” he said. “Sometimes, I see something that’s just too nice to leave it alone.”
He made the work kept in the mini-Met over the last 10 years, but Carlson has been creating since he was just a kid.
“My Dad was in charge of the Detroit bus station’s lost and found and was always bringing odd bits home,” he said. “He was big on making little stuff, like toys and things. I just picked it up from him.”
Down in the basement, Carlson struggles to pick a favorite. It’s like asking someone to pick their favorite kid, he says. But he slowly points to Vulture, which he says came together better than he ever expected.
And that’s quite a feat when the project in question involves a softball, a soap bottle, a pinstripe suit, four feet of driftwood, work gloves, fake nails, a trash can, and an assortment of old bones – all tied together to make a 4-foot-tall buzzard.
“I like the cartooniest renditions of lawyers as vultures, so it was a natural to use pinstripe suitcoat arms as wings,” Carlson explains on his Web site.
Stray tools, wood shavings and decapitated teddy bears litter his basement workshop. But while much of the suit coat artwork seems humorous – if not a little sinister – all of it shows meticulous attention to detail.
“I don’t go for big metaphors, but here and there, if you look, you can find it,” Carlson said, pointing out a damsel in distress in Ants 18.104.22.168, which he describes as a tribute to 1950s monster horror flicks.
Sometimes, “if the muse is really strong,” Carlson works a few hours a day. Other projects take years.
“Voodoo Quadruped,” which he formulated after finding a fawn’s pelvis bone while walking in the woods, is in the latter category. Carlson had to wait years to find what he needed: Two more pelvises.
After flipping them over and attaching them to long, handcrafted robes and charms, Carlson wired the largest of the pelvises with blue electric lights and hair clips, giving the three statues the unmistakable look of masks. In front of the 10-inch-tall figures, he placed a carefully cut cedar stump engraved with a pentagram. Inside the pentagram rests a miniature rubber chicken and birthday candles, all preparing to be sacrificed.
“It’s a little off center, but I find that more interesting,” Carlson said.
Although fiercely dedicated to his art, he has never gotten any kind of recognition for his passion. But that doesn’t mean anything to him.
“I’m waiting to be discovered by the art world,” he said, only half joking.
One thing is certain: Carlson dreams of an art show of his own. For now, he settles for leading the occasional customer downstairs.
“My first reaction was shock and awe,” recalled Tatiana Bruno, a William Smith graduate and Geneva local. “You just think it’s a bar, and Gary’s kind of a quiet guy. You don’t get the impression he’s kind of a creative genius until you go downstairs. My favorite is Quicksand, the one with faces chewed into walnuts by squirrels.”
Carlson said just about every piece has been identified as someone’s favorite. But he has also had his fair share of critics.
“You can tell in about ten seconds if you’ve got someone who is going to appreciate it,” he said.
Some turn to their friends, discouraged looks on their faces, and make a discreet exit up the stairs. But others want to buy stuff.
Carlson said one bidder even offered as much as $5,000 for Neil’s Nightmare – another jewel in his collection. However, Carlson is not accepting offers for his work. He wants the chance to display it all at least once before he sells it off.
At least that’s what he says. Others might guess that he’s just an art pack rat.
Nick Ruth, an associate professor of art at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, discussed the history and tradition behind found object art – with a disclaimer.
“It’s basically impossible to pinpoint the first time someone found something and found beauty not related to its original purpose,” he said.
But if a beginning is needed, look no further than Marcel Duchamp, a French surrealist living in the early 1900s. His most notable work was a bathroom urinal, which he titled Fountain.
Duchamp called this genre “readymades,” but it soon became known as found art.
“There is something very inspiring in discovering something unexpected in normal, everyday stuff, and I think the possibility starts multiplying when you add more and more objects,” Ruth said.
He also took a look at Carlson’s Web site.
“For some time now, many thoughtful people have been trying to challenge the question of what makes art good, and perhaps some time ago people felt that … many years of technical training is what legitimized an artist’s vision,” Ruth said. “But these days, there’s a lot of creativity and insight from the people like Gary.”