By GWEN SISSON
It is not green, but no other Christmas tree represents the community quite like this year’s offering.
The Starkville Community Christmas tree is an art project showcasing the work and cooperative effort of Gulf States Manufacturing, Mississippi State University, the Starkville Community Market and local artists.
Dylan Karges, president of the Starkville Area Arts Council and co-manager of the Starkville Community Market, said the Community Christmas tree project was envisioned during the development of the Market site as a continuing effort to keep the site functioning as a community centerpiece and as a center for community activity.
Karges, a sculptor, designed and built the tree with the aid of three fine arts student workers from the MSU Department of Art.
The project is funded through community support and MSU through the Community Development Training Fund launched with the help of Mike McGrevey as Vice President of Administration and Finance at MSU.
Two of these students and six others have been employed as student workers through a Community Development Training Fund established in the fall of 2009 to provide design-build and professional experience in Arts-Based Community Development projects.
“The Christmas Tree was the exclamation point and culmination of this year’s activities in developing a public space and alternative arts space out of a long vacant lot and eyesore in downtown Starkville,” Karges said. ‘
“Through coordination of volunteers from various student groups and local civic groups and with the continued aid of the student workers from the College of Architecture Arts and Design, the Starkville Community Market found a home and Starkville found an emerging green space and public forum arts space.”
The tree was built in six sections that could be erected individually and then pushed into place and welded together for strength and support with the final product being 8 feet wide and 16 feet tall and weighing about 1,500 pounds. Karges said he felt good about the design and scale of the tree as the project.
In constructing the tree, Karges said
the idea of the kit of parts and prefabricated elements was integral and vital.
Karges said this project is also a great testament to the wonderful support given to the community and the Starkville Community Market development by Gulf States Manufacturing.
“In ongoing discussions since early this year, Gulf States has opened its doors and hearts to make the site development happen as a collaborative and creative community development project,” Karges said.
“When I mentioned the Christmas tree project, they were behind it 100 percent and again invited us to use them as a resource for the raw materials.”
Karges said the Christmas tree, like the fencing around the site, is made of purely reused materials from the production of shapes used in the manufacturing of Gulf States metal buildings.
“The pieces are the leftovers from multiple shapes being cut out of larger rectangular sheets of steel,” Karges said.
“These pieces, be it leftover from cutting out the minutemen they have offered across the state in support of our men in the arms forces, or custom signage for their building customers, each has its own unique pattern and in the right combinations and layers, offers limitless potential in variety and interest in the design of the fencing and the tree.”
Karges said the whole process has been very open to improvisation in the use of the material as a kit of part to maximize the visual impact through variety and density in the layers in which the steel work comes together.
“With three people working in tandem, there was no way without the support of machinery and great expense to erect a tree of the same scope and scale, so we built it in pieces that were manageable,” Karges said.
“After building 12 large triangles of the layered steel, we then put a series of wedges together that reinforced each other and could be handled and erected individually then pushed these pie shaped wedges together to create the full tree form. I love this as a way to work, as it always keeps the results fresh and free to personal expression of the folks putting the parts together.
From daylight to night time conditions, Karges said the perception of the tree is very different. Karges said the rough and jagged edges of the rusty steel come together in a very open web as a sculptural form in the day creating a porous monolith during the day.
“As you move around the tree, there are views all the way through the web creating specific moments in time when there is a clean break between the wedges besides a few of the cross braces, so it changes dramatically from a dense framework of loose edges to poignant moments of division,” Karges said.
Karges said hopefully the Community Christmas Tree transcends the basic function of providing an armature from which to hang Christmas lights.
“From an artist’s standpoint this is where moments of celebration occur—when there is some lasting power, where the experience is more than just looking from a distance,” Karges said.
“Most people will not get out of their car to walk around the tree, but like the market itself, the tree is most fully experience through physical participation, and hopefully responds with subtle surprises like I mentioned before. Though the craft is not polished and the finish rough, there are moments when the bigger details outshine the larger form. This is art and design with a very simple function, but with thoughtful approach and supporting details.”
At this time, there is a little debate about whether the tree should be just for Christmas, or serve as a sculptural display throughout the year.
“We have a couple thoughts on how to utilize the tree in the off season with one being to dismantle it and put it in to storage until next year, but we can also move it into the central green space at the Market and display it simply as a sculptural work or plant climbing flowering vines at the base and use it as a trellis,” Karges said.
“If we can place it permanently at the site, I think it would be wonderful to see the transition throughout the seasons until we light it again for Christmas each year.”