By Ellen Reinhard
Along the shore of Tamarama Beach in New South Wales, Australia, beachgoers can view a 38-by-20-foot wooden sculpture. The piece was designed thousands of miles away by Union University sculptor and chair of Union’s Department of Art, Lee Benson.
Benson won the 2010 Ephemeral and Site Specific sculpture prize for his piece, “Title Wave.” He is one of four international artists awarded this prize.
Unlike art created solely for viewing and evaluation, the wood supplies from the piece will be turned into a low-income house in Australia.
“The sculpture was on display at the beach until Nov.19. Then, Habitat for Humanity International dismantled it and built a house,” Benson said. “We have worked with the organization in the States, but this was the first time we did internationally.”
After gaining recognition for a sculpture at the University of Oklahoma, Benson was encouraged to apply for this project and competition. Through an application process to qualify, artists presented their construction background. If selected, artists then presented proposals and entered a jury process.
Benson and his wife, Betty, own Benson Sculpture LLC in Jackson, and he said they both worked on the piece. After receiving the news that they won, the Bensons traveled to Australia in October to construct the wooden sculpture.
“About five years ago my wife and I realized we wanted to become more socially conscious in how we make art,” Benson said. “We went to an international arts movement conference in New York and we both received a real revival in the arts about how to make art and its purpose.”
As a sculptor, Benson has worked with mixed medium and clay for more than 30 years. He said after he first started working with Habitat for Humanity he began using wood as a medium for the sculptures he and Betty Benson produced.
“I don’t want to just make work that eventually will have to be destroyed,” Benson said. “And all public artwork eventually goes that route. We were thinking of ways to be a little more involved in this process (of reusable materials). There is a house somewhere in Key West in Florida built with wood from our sculpture.”
Benson currently has sculptures on display in Indianapolis, South Dakota, the University of Mississippi in Oxford and the University of Louisiana at Monroe.