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Is It Art or Is It a Bench? Head to The Woodlands and Judge for Yourself

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Is this art, or is this a bench? The correct answer is "both," and Stardust by Elizabeth Akamatsu is one of six new benches commissioned by The Woodlands Arts Council through its community outreach arm, Because Art Matters. It's actually phase two of an initiative that began with last year's installation of eight benches along the one-and-a-half-mile stretch connecting The Woodlands Mall with Waterway Square and Town Green Park. More than 70 designs were submitted by artists from around the world, and the six finalists were then asked to proceed with three designs for their particular bench. The endeavor is underwritten by local businesses and community members, and it was those underwriters who made the final design selections. The works of art/benches can be viewed by strolling along the waterway or taking the trolley.

Elizabeth Akamatsu was born in Yokosuka, Japan, and now resides in Nacogdoches, Texas. She spent time as an assistant professor of art at Sam Houston State University and is now a full-time artist. Stardust was underwritten by David and Brenda Gottlieb and is one of three benches installed for the first time in Town Green Park, south of the water basin.

Don Lawler, a professional stone sculptor from Stephensport, Kentucky, spent quite a bit of time chronicling his progress in creating Family Tree Bench. He started with a 9,000-pound stone that was more than ten feet in length. In his first blog post, he wrote about upgrading the scope of the project from six feet to eight feet wide. In his second posting, his work concentrated on removing large sections from the center of the rock to create the bench shape. The project is completed in his third posting, showing close-ups of the detail in his leaf forms. The last and final posting details the precarious installation at the site via crane. Family Tree Bench was underwritten by Village Medical Center and has been placed on a walkway between Waterway Square and Town Green Park.

Dan Skaggs, from Laguna Beach, California, is a repeat artist with the art bench project. His first bench, Ode to Joy, is a whimsical curvilinear form that uses piano keys for the bench and musical notes for the upright back. Professionally, he has installed more than 200 water features and waterwalls for various clients including Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the St. Regis Hotel in Dana Point, California. Skaggs says that, for him, the bench is a metaphor for the "universal pleasure of sitting under the shade of a tree, leaning back against its trunk and looking up into its canopy." He feels that the bench serves as a map, providing both a sense of place and a sense of belonging to its location. Umbrella Tree was underwritten by the Shedden family and is one of the three new benches in the Town Green Park location, south of the water basin.

After graduating from San Francisco Art Institute, Valerie Theberge moved to China to study the Chinese language and Chinese painting. She later trained in Hong Kong with a British company that specialized in the art of mosaics. She currently resides in Washington, DC, and her portfolio includes projects in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, India and the United States. Bean was underwritten by Gayle and Todd Kuoni and has been placed at Town Green Park Northwest.

Does this scene look familiar? Galveston artist John V. Weber channeled our Gulf Coast beautifully in this nature-inspired bench, right down to the details of the just-caught fish in the bird's mouth. On the Bayou was underwritten by Peggy and Ray Wilcox and and also is one of the three new benches placed in the Town Green Park area.

Chris Miller, who hails from Calais, Vermont, created the sixth piece in this art bench project. Mipenipa was underwritten by Mitchell, Peggy, Nicholas and Patrick Hausman and is located along The Waterway at Waterway Square.

For more information about the Woodlands Arts Council and a map of the art bench locations, please visit woodlandswaterwayartscouncil.org/projects/artbench/2014.

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