The sculpture, from a distance, immediately caught my attention. A light metal sheen down the street beckoning me to draw closer in the late afternoon sun. As I approach, a DNA-like bronze spiral comes into better view, connecting a small human figure up top, to another figure below. Wait, snowboarders?
Turning Point sculpture by Jason Dreweck, Muskegon, Michigan
Turning Point. The sculpture stands 14 feet in height along a wind-swept street bookended by local breweries near the water in Muskegon, Michigan, a lumber baron town with a mid-20th century manufacturing heyday (think bowling balls and pins- The Brunswick Corporation). Muskegon seems to be slowly rebooting in the 21st century with an emphasis on local flavor- beers, coffee, food, a smattering of newer businesses, and a hometown pride evidenced in the Go Muskegon banners flapping in the relentless wind off Lake Michigan.
What brought me here was a map, a compass, and a latitude line I was following around the world.
I had arrived to Muskegon an hour earlier, short on time and desperately looking for a connection between two distant places nearing eight hundred miles apart, Muskegon, Michigan and Manchester, Vermont, the town where I live. These two places- Muskegon the city and Manchester the small town, are directly east and west of one another and share the same latitude line. My hunch is that people and places along the same latitude line share something in common- same latitude, same light, similar daily and seasonal rhythms. From there, latitude can be a practical way to connect and build bridges amongst diverse communities nationally and internationally, and more broadly, latitude can represent a kind of branching out of ‘local’ into a global context.
Muskegon and Manchester’s powerful snow sport connection was revealed to me in striking sculpture form by artist Jason Dreweck. His sculpture- The Turning Point (2012)- honors the origins of snowboarding- the Snurfer Board created by Sherman Poppen in Muskegon in the mid-1960’s, and the trajectory of Poppen’s creation into the sport of modern snowboarding advanced by Jake Burton Carpenter from the late 1970’s through its explosive growth in popularity at the turn of the millennium. What Sherman Poppen developed on a hill in Muskegon, Jake Carpenter would expand on the pow-filled mountains near Manchester, Vermont, on the exact same latitude line about 800 miles apart. Same line, same light?
Turning Point by Jason Dreweck
I would have the fortune to catch up with Artist Jason Dreweck in April 2017.
Pablo: Tell me the backstory on how your sculpture ended up in Muskegon. Who was involved in making it happen and what was the reaction, the feedback?
Jason Dreweck: ‘As a second generation sculptor, for years I traveled the country displaying my mom’s work as well as my own at fine art shows. In 2010 we were at a show in Breckenridge, CO. There I met a man named John Bernard who purchased the small maquette (Turning Point) and through conversation mentioned he lived in Muskegon. Over the next couple months that interaction stayed on my mind as I’m familiar with the history. I then reached out to John with the idea of honoring Sherman Poppen and he ran with it.
‘The entire community rallied around the sculpture and the pride they shared knowing the Snurfer was born in Muskegon. It was an amazing experience for me as I was able to see first hand the extraordinary impact public art has on a community. A passionate grassroots public art project has the ability to unify a community with a common goal and sense of pride. We let the world know that the Snurfer was from Muskegon.’
Pablo: Light seems to be a key component of your sculptures. I have observed how different the Muskegon statue can look at different times of the day, and even at night. How does light influence your work, and is that a major factor in how you think about your pieces? Or are they simply organically light influenced in the way that natural light is a backdrop for the sports you delve into with your work?
Jason: ‘Light plays a huge role in my creative process. I create depth and contrast using patina combined with carefully selected high polished areas. When the sunlight/moonlight hits the high polished bronze sections it really creates warmth and brings the piece to life.’
Pablo: What was the evolution of your subject focus on surfers and snowboarders? What about these subjects is most compelling to you as a major focus for your work?
Jason: ‘I grew up around the arts and snowboarding, and developed a passion for surfing. It was only natural for me to transition my love for surf and snowboard culture to the arts.
‘In the beginning my intention was just to create something that I would want to own. Something unique that I felt captured the essence of surfing and snowboarding. At the time I was focused on promoting my mom’s work and was not expecting to actually sell my work. Surfing and snowboarding embody freedom, solitude, a deeper discovery of oneself through progression – I believe art does the same thing. As I work through a piece, I feel connected to experiences I’ve had, and I pour all that into my work.’
Same line, same light.
Seeing Jason Dreweck’s aptly named Turning Point sculpture can only be described as a profound turning point for me in this latitude project, and the culmination of a two-year brainstorm on the possibilities of latitude line as a simple and practical platform for international inquiry, exploration, and connection of local communities east and west of one another around the world.
The basic premise of a ‘latitude movement’ is that there’s something truly shared among communities along the same latitude line- yes, the very fact of being on the same latitude line, which is intrinsic to place and cannot be changed, but also the impact of latitude on all aspects of human experience, the significance of what being on the same latitude means. Same latitude means the exact same day-length each and every day for all the places along that line, affecting seasonal rhythms, crops, culture. As the days get longer approaching summer, they get longer in the exact same way along a latitude line. And expanding on this, the physical, geographical reality and experience of a shared latitude line not only presents future opportunities for latitude connection amongst diverse communities both rural and urban, but should also in theory manifest in synergistic historic and cultural narratives.
If latitude line is indeed a true commons for all places east and west- and if the commons of sunlight and daily quantity thereof really does impact human life- there should already be proof of that in some way. Proof on the ground, like this monument to the Snurfer board and origins of snowboarding, casually waiting on a street corner in Muskegon one late summer afternoon in 2016.
Online research reveals historical examples of latitude connections along most any latitude line if you want to find them, and the latitude line of Manchester, Vermont is no exception (just ten minutes north of the 43rd parallel in the Northern Hemisphere). For instance, the development of Sapporo, Japan into a brewery center in the late 1800’s had everything to do with an American consultant brought there to develop the economy of Northern Japan- Horace Capron, Secretary of Agriculture in the Grant administration- who recognized that the beer grains of upstate NY (directly east, where he grew up) would grow well in Hokkaido. Hence Sapporo beer. Galicia, Spain also has great beer (Estrella), as does Western Michigan and Vermont. When you look for connection, you can find it. Sometimes you have to get creative, but not too much stretching is required to find connections along latitude line.
Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) broadly highlights the significance of latitude in the development and expansion of human civilization- that it was much easier for humans to expand along east-west lines as similar latitudes offered more continuity in terms of climates and crops and required less adaptivity overall. The narrative of humanity is one shaped significantly by latitude.
My town of Manchester is in the Green Mountains of Southern Vermont, and just a few miles from Stratton Ski Area and the epicenter of modern snowboarding. Jake Burton Carpenter traveled directly west to Michigan in the 1970’s to participate in Snurfing contests and eventually to display his innovation of adding bindings to the board- allowing the rider to carve and direct the board with the feet and legs and lean of the body, eliminating the need for a rope and broadening the scope of the sport to tougher rides and slopes.
Did these guys- Jake Carpenter and Sherman Poppen- the pioneers of shred– consciously realize they were working on the exact same latitude line, about 800 miles away directly east and west from one another? And what is the significance of that? Is it random coincidence, and/or does it matter? In my view, it’s a bright and shiny clue to latitude-as-true-connection, a true bridge linking communities east and west, and a line of inquiry to follow.
After my short visit to Muskegon, the latitudinal plot would thicken exponentially. I read in the Manchester Journal that a sculpture project is being developed on main street Londonderry, VT, near the base of Stratton Mountain, and a short drive from my home, to honor snowboarding pioneer Jake Burton Carpenter. Artist Jason Dreweck is at the center of the Burton sculpture project.
Pablo: What’s your working rhythm like as an artist? Where do you do your work, and what’s a day in the life of Jason like?
Jason: ‘I like working on a couple of pieces at the same time. If I get hung up on one piece, It allows me to walk away from that sculpture and shift my focus in a another direction, most of the time returning with a clear mind and better perspective. Although the pieces may be completely different – they can kind of feed off one another.
The last six years I’ve lived in a small apartment with a loft near New York City. I had clay, tools and armature materials in the loft to work through different maquette compositions. During this time I’ve been traveling a lot and doing most of my design work through constant sketches while going from place to place. Inspiration can come from anywhere.
I now have a one-and-a-half-year-old son that inspires me daily and keeps me close to home. Last week we actually moved out of that small apartment to work on the Londonderry monument full time.’
Pablo: Tell me about your collaboration with Jake Carpenter and Ross Powers [gold medalist snowboarder, VT local] on the Londonderry, Vermont sculpture- how did that come together?
Jason: ‘The collaborative effort started when Mimi and I met with Jake at Burton headquarters. Jake expressed to us the timeless soulful style of the method and how he felt that style best represented snowboarding. Olympic Gold medalist Ross Powers has one of the best methods in snowboarding and is from Londonderry. Right now I’m collaborating with Ross to capture the method from a core technical rider standpoint. Artistically the challenge is finding balance between core technical rider and composition. I believe together we’ve accomplished this balance on all levels and I’m excited for the launch of the new rendition!’
Pablo: One more thing- which may or may not be a surprise for you: did you know that your Muskegon and Londonderry sculptures will be on the exact same latitude line, about 800 miles apart, east and west of one another? The significance here is two-fold. For your sculptures, it will mean they each receive the exact same day length -hours of light- each and every day of the year, as the days get longer and shorter through the seasons. So a kind of profound light connection between and among your pieces. Second, as your sculptures reveal, there is an origin of snowboarding, Snurfing/Snowboarding connection along this latitude line as well.
Jason: ‘That’s incredible Pablo! I hadn’t realized this connection. I do know Brew- founder of Vew-Do balance boards- who is now manufacturing the Snurfer in Manchester. I see a connection with latitude lines and balance as well! Now – crazy enough I was born in Minomonee Falls, WI (latitude 43, 8) and grew up in Loveland, CO (latitude 40, 23). All closely connected to similar line.
Pablo: Wow, you were born on the line. Truly amazing. Jason, thank you.
Once the project is completed, and we have our snowboard sculpture here near Manchester, this means that on every clear sunny day, the two sculptures, Turning Point in Muskegon, and the Burton in Londonderry VT, will reflect the same sunlight for the exact same amount of time, each and every day. Same line, same light.
To recap the latitudinal discovery:
- I go to Muskegon, MI desperately looking for a latitude connection with Manchester VT and determining that there needed to be a direct connection, somehow discovered within a few hours to validate my latitude theory. I setup myself up for failure and failed to fail- or in other words- got lucky.
- In Muskegon, I quickly find a sculpture by Jason Dreweck revealing to me that Muskegon and Manchester are linked directly by Snurfing and snowboarding. Muskegon is home of the original Snurfer board. Today, that Snurfer board is manufactured in Manchester by Vew-Do.
- A few months later I find out that the same artist – Jason Dreweck- will be creating a snowboard sculpture honoring Burton about 10 miles from Manchester VT.
- That means there will be two sculptures created on the same latitude line honoring closely connected snow sport themes by the same artist.
- Jason Dreweck the artist also happens to be born on the same latitude line a little further west in Wisconsin.
- This is a pretty good start to investigating my hunch that places along a latitude line have something special in common.
- So we are on to something. Turning Point.