Murray Dewart speaks about poetry and sculpture

Of all art forms, ancient and contemporary, sculpture has the longest and most enduring capacity for memory and representation. No one understands this sentiment better than celebrated sculptor Murray “Mac” Dewart, a Boston-based artist, scholar and editor of Poems About Sculpture, a collection of poems, spanning regions and eras, about the eternal nature of sculpture.

On Monday, Dewart spoke at Wallis Annenberg Hall about the influence of American landscape and history on the art of sculpture. The event — in a collaboration between the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Roski School of Art and Design and Fisher Museum of Art — was replete with a complimentary lunch and attended by students and scholars.

Dewart was invited to speak at the request of Annenberg Dean Ernest J. Wilson III. Since Wilson was away on business, his wife, Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Professor Francille Wilson, addressed the crowd and welcomed Dewart to USC.

“To call Mac a Renaissance man is an understatement of his great and searching mind,” Wilson said. “He has an intensely curious mind.”

After Wilson’s introduction, Dewart took the floor with a copy of his new book in hand and began to speak.

“I’m going to talk about three things,” Dewart said. “I’m going to talk about how [the American] landscape has awakened the imaginations of poets and of sculptors, how the tools we use are critical to what it is we accomplish and how the cultural interface happens as cultures — from the East, West, North, South — impact this continent.”

Through a series of photographs, Dewart illustrated a narrative of the evolution of American culture as documented through sculpture. Observing the bronze George Washington sculpture standing in the Boston Public Garden, Dewart saw a reflection of the American revolutionary struggle and evidence of America’s displacement of native populations.

He made a case for the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor as a manifestation of the enlarged American sense of individual liberty as well as an emblem of the model generosity deeply entrenched in the American vision. And he interpreted Mount Rushmore as a symbol of the American tendency to romanticize the past in its retrospective celebration of political figures.

“Artisans and sculptors — we give the world metaphors,” Dewart said. “If you can get three metaphors into a sculpture, you’re doing well. Sculpture is a balance between poetry and engineering; too much engineering and it’s boring, too much poetry and it tips over, falls down, falls apart, doesn’t last.” 

Dewart noted the importance of early and frequent failures, crediting his failure as a novelist in college as the catalyst for his sculpting career.

“I began making sculptures my last year at Harvard College because I’d always loved working with my hands, and I understood that there was something important about sculpture,” Dewart said.

Since then, he found great professional success, and his independent works have been installed in major public gardens around the globe, including in his hometown of Cambridge, Mass. and Beijing, China.

Most recently, Dewart collaborated with acclaimed poet Robert Pinsky to publish Poems About Sculpture, a unique poetry collection that examines the relationship between the two art forms.

“Poetry and sculpture are not linked in time, unlike novels and movies,” Dewart said. “Sculptures are instantaneously visible and experienced [in the moment], and poetry has a spiritual dimension that’s related to that.”