Interactive bookcase invites motorists to stop and create

By Fran Gonzalez | Oct 17, 2019
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Leslie Woods designed and her husband, John Bednarik, built this interactive sculpture on the sweeping curve opposite their farmhouse on Route 220 in Montville.

Montville — Across from her house, on a spit of land next to a curve in the road, Leslie Woods and husband John Bednarik have erected a structure that has caught the eye of many passing motorists. Some, to Woods’ delight, have even stopped to take a closer look.

Woods lives in a sprawling farmhouse with the trickiest of driveways. Her home is situated on a sweeping 90-degree turn on North Valley Highway where it meets Center Road, with each side equally blinded.

On this island of green, where Woods sold vegetables in earlier times, stands a structure that resembles a large white bookcase, teeming with wooden shapes painted magenta, green, black and white. It is an interactive sculpture that entices the viewer to touch, play and create. And of course, minutes later, others may take the work apart to craft their own.

“The whole point was to have people step outside of themselves,” Woods said, and to have them stop and interact. “I was so proud of people that had the nerve to do something!"

At first, Woods said, she was not sure how it would be received. “I thought, this could be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever come up with.”

She guesses it was perhaps the troupes of kids heading to Hidden Valley Camp, a popular summer camp located up the road from her installation, who would pass and then stop. Or maybe it was the counselors stopping to create something, then dashing off.

The bookcase started to see some action.

She found that every couple of days, something would change and, "I was amazed." With each visit, new stories were created.

"After the U.S. won the Women's World Cup, we added a soccer ball with USA and a female symbol," Woods said. "A young boy later added a trophy stand and placed the ball on top. A few days later, a girl set the ball aside and created a village."

People began putting structures on top of the bookcase and stuck pieces out to the sides. Woods supplied a few pieces of pottery and later would see people using them in their designs.

Once someone threw a good-sized stone at the structure and damaged a shelf. Woods said she was disappointed, although she had braced herself for this possibility.

"I cleared off the shelf and placed the rock below the cracks it made. By the next morning someone had used wood pieces to incorporate the rock into a design," she said.

Recently a storm blew away the plastic pots Woods uses to hold the wooden pieces. "A few days passed before I got across the road to pick them up," she said. "Someone had stopped, located the pots, stacked them and created a sculpture on top."

Bednarik said, “We didn’t think it would be as popular as it’s been.” 

Woods said she has always admired the work of Louise Nevelson, a sculptor known for her monumental, monochromatic wooden wall pieces and outdoor sculptures, and cites Nevelson as an inspiration in creating her interactive bookcase.

She also wanted to take away any feeling of apprehension anyone might have about her husband's sculpture on the opposite side of the island, which he put up last spring.

Bednarik's installation is a large machine gun cut out of wood and painted black, in honor of all lives lost on account of gun violence. He calls it the "American Merry-Go-Round Memorial."

Woods said because it is a gun, and it has a point of view, it is considered political.

"We have rifles and shotguns," Woods said. "We feel hunting is fine," even though this has nothing to do with what the sculpture represents. Bednarik said he has not had any negative reaction to his sculpture at all.

Woods is better-known for her paintings of sports figures in motion. Her work has been displayed in numerous galleries, most recently at Maine General Medical Center for the months of September and October.

She is a figure painter, she said, but not in a traditional sense. She does not paint female nudes lying down or sitting on chairs, but rather prefers to capture bodies in motion.

She enjoys sports because "they are real and there is potential for surprises." She weaves together figure painting and sports by placing her subjects playing and moving, and then freezes the action.

"It's nice to see that people are somewhat beginning to notice," she said.

One of her paintings, which won an award, she said, started her on this path.

The painting is called "One Quarter Second," and is based on a baseball pitcher, standing on one foot, looking in one direction. When the pitcher's movement is complete, the player is standing on another foot looking in a completely different direction. "It is such art in the way the body moves," she said, "and at what speed."

The couple have lived in Montville for the past 37 years and said they moved 19 times before finally hitting upon their farmhouse. One of the longest times, Woods said, was 10 years in Manhattan. "Before that we lived in Germany, California twice, all kinds of places," she said. "So when we finally moved up here, it was shocking."

A few years ago the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and decided to go on a cross-country adventure visiting Washington, Oregon and Canada.

"Maine has more of everything and less of everything than any place in the country," Bednarik said, meaning in a good way.

In her pre-retirement life, Woods worked at a public relations firm in New York, and then continued writing in Maine. She has worked at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and also grew vegetables and had 60 ewes at one time. Later on in her career, she worked at MBNA part-time.

Bednarik worked at Bath Iron Works for 14 years as a computer programmer/analyst, as well as selling ads for the Coastal Journal part-time before taking early retirement.

Woods said they plan on taking the installations down in the winter months, but then in spring will bring them out again.

For more information on the artist, visit lesliewoodsart.com.

John Bednarik designed and constructed the "American Merry-Go Round Memorial" in honor of lives lost to gun violence. The structure is on the same corner where his wife, Leslie Woods, has her interactive bookcase installation on Route 220, where it meets Center Road in Montville. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
After retirement, John Bednarik learned welding in adult education classes and has created several metal sculptures, which are placed throughout the gardens at the farmhouse he shares with his wife, Leslie Woods. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
The gardens of Leslie Woods and John Bednarik Oct. 3. Bednarik took up welding after he retired from working at Bath Iron Works. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
One of John Bednariks' intricate welding designs. The farmhouse he shares with wife Leslie Woods has sculptures throughout the garden. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
Artist Leslie Woods said Oct. 3 that the colored wood pieces on her husband's "American Merry-Go Around Memorial" sculpture represent lives lost. Woods' interactive sculpture can be seen in the background. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
Leslie Woods, left, and husband John Bednarik, pictured Oct. 3, stand next to the interactive sculpture designed by Woods and constructed by Bednarik. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
Comments (1)
Posted by: Paul Sheridan | Oct 23, 2019 20:27

Nice stuff, Leslie and John....thanks for contributing to community!



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