Artist sculpts as agent of hunger awareness

March 23, 1995|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

Jo Israelson's 1,400-pound marble goddess has stood watch for a year over a Union Bridge farmer's fertile fields, which have produced more than two tons of wheat for Western Maryland's hungry.

The sleeping goddess of white Carrara marble is to be removed next week from her perch atop a hill on Sam Lease's farm.

But Ms. Israelson hopes that the statue, her first venture into art-as-social-catalyst, continues to compel people to think about the problems of rural hunger.

"I've grown up with the heritage that it doesn't matter how little you have, you can always share with someone who has less," the 44-year-old sculptor said yesterday. "Ingrained in my soul is the notion of being socially responsible, and, for this, the trick was how to integrate that into art.

"Is there an artistic responsibility to cause change with one's works? I don't know if I believe this, much like I don't know the answer to the question of whether art imitates life or life imitates art."

On Saturday, Ms. Israelson will thank the dozens of people who helped integrate her concern for the rural poor into Seeds of Change, the title of her hunger awareness project. She has invited more than 600 people to Union Bridge Community Center for an evening of dancing, food, awards and the Carroll premiere of her video documentary of the project.

"Without the help of others, this wouldn't have worked," Ms. Israelson said. "I don't think I could have done this project anyplace else in the Washington area. The notion of community is very much a part of the Carroll County gestalt."

The documentary -- produced with volunteers from Carroll Community Television and the Carroll Communications Guild -- premiered Tuesday at a bookstore on DuPont Circle in Washington. The hourlong tape chronicles the project's journey from idea to reality. It will be distributed to county libraries, arts organizations and cable television stations.

Ms. Israelson, a Maine native, never set out to be an artist, much less one on the forefront of a new movement to use art as a means for social change. An 18-year employee of the General Accounting Office, she gradually became a sculptor after learning the craft in 1984. She began Seeds of Change in 1993, using all of her $17,000 federal buyout and "a heavy amount of credit cards" to make the project a reality.

The goddess -- which Ms. Israelson hopes to sell -- will be removed in a week. "For me, the project's finished," she said. "The farmer needs to plow his field, I need to move on."

But the goddess will still have a social impact. Elk Run Vineyards of Mount Airy is issuing a limited-edition bottling of pinot noir called "Seeds of Change." A portion of the proceeds from the wine will go to Carroll County Food Sunday for the next three years.

A photograph of the sculpture taken by 10-year-old Shannon Scott of New Windsor will grace the label, Ms. Israelson said.

"She is one of the most environmentally conscientious children I know, and she's only 10," the artist said.

Ms. Israelson will fill the next couple of months looking for work until she can pay the bills she accumulated during her social project.

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