Collecting art

Published 12:17 pm Thursday, October 1, 2015

I have a small sculpture in my office. It stands about four inches tall and consists of a twisted wire, a slice of cork, and a blue marble. I got the piece from an Art-o-mat vending machine at the Longwood Center for Visual Arts. It was created by Farmville artist, Sandy Willcox.

The form of the sculpture intrigues me, and the various ways I interpret its meaning change based on my mood and how the sunlight hits the marble. On some days, I see myself as the marble: partly transparent, partly reflecting what goes on around me, and partly concealed. The wire, with its curls and loops, reminds me of the path my life has followed on its journey to get me where I am. The cork at the base suggests all the traditions and roots that help hold me stable. The base isn’t what catches my eye, however. The entire sculpture sweeps upward, reminding me that I’m on a journey into the future, an undefined unknown.

On other days, I see the marble as the earth—a small piece of creation, a tiny ball in the vastness of a greater universe, held in its place by the principles of orbital mechanics and the law of gravity. And, like the twists in the wire that supports the marble, these forces have often demanded that physicists reconsider past assumptions and investigate evidence in a new direction. The marble humbles me when I realize how small I am in the grand scheme of things and how complicated even seemingly simple things can be.

Email newsletter signup

Sometimes the wire draws my attention. I see a shape akin to a treble clef. I hear mingling strains of long-forgotten music that stirs my emotions and urges me to march on. Even when I’m tired. Even when I’m weary. Even when people around me seem to be focused on a different tune.

That’s a lot of meaning, especially for a tiny piece of art that came in a box the size of a cigarette pack. You see, Art-o-mat machines are repurposed cigarette vending machines. You insert payment (a token costs $5), pull the knob representing the art you want, and a small box drops. Sandy is one of 400 artists whose work is available in more than 100 machines around the country. Other types of artwork include photographs, paintings, and jewelry. The scope of what’s available is limited only by an artist’s imagination—and the precisely defined box dimensions required for smooth vending operations. The selections change as alternate items become available, so you can make multiple visits to the machine. Yet, with all the options from which to choose, my favorite is Sandy’s sculpture.

Recently, I had an opportunity to enjoy more of Sandy’s work. She participated in a two-person exhibition, along with her husband David Dodge Lewis, at the HSC Atkinson Museum. “Realism: The Compelling Illusion,” featured paintings by both of them. On display were works of art in which everyday objects, scenes, and portraits looked as real as photographs, but they were so much more. The images were composed to evoke deeper truths, encouraging the viewer to see an underlying reality filled — often simultaneously — with playful and poignant meanings.

David is the William W. Eliott Professor of Fine Arts at HSC, and more of his work is currently on display in the LCVA’s lower level. “The Quickening Image,” comprises dozens of drawings created through a process known as wax-resist. It features David’s work along with that of Ephraim Rubenstein, who is on the faculty of the Art Students League of New York and Columbia University.

The exhibition will remain at LCVA until November 22, so you still have time to see it. If you decide you want to bring some art home with you, don’t miss the Art-o-mat machine. And, next time you’re online, visit Lewcox Galleries ( to learn more about two Farmville artists, David Dodge Lewis and Sandy Willcox.

Karen Bellenir, in Farmville since 2009, blogs for Pier Perspectives ( and maintains an archive of columns at She is editorial director for Wordwright LLC providing services to authors, publishers and print and electronic publications ( Her email is