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A new piece of public art has been unveiled in Lebanon, although it’s not where some people expected.
Jared Odrick, a former defensive end for the NFL, gifted the massive bronze sculpture – titled “Conversation with Myself,” by Colorado-based artist Lorri Acott – to the community this fall. However, although the piece originally was planned to be located at his alma mater, Lebanon High School, it has been placed instead in Coleman Memorial Park.
Odrick, a 2006 Lebanon graduate, played football at Penn State from 2006 through 2009. He was drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Miami Dolphins. He played five seasons for the Dolphins, and two for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Another, smaller version of the sculpture spoke to him at a time when he needed it, Odrick told LebTown on Friday.
“I saw it at a time in my life when I felt that I was looking for someone to look up to,” he said. “I was looking for a new set of behaviors to model myself after. In that search, I saw this piece, and it spoke to my exact center.”
He was visiting an uncle in New Mexico, and he spied the statue after hiking in the Santa Fe mountains with his nephews.
“I was inspired in that moment, and I didn’t want to lose that feeling,” he recalled. “It struck me in that moment. I wondered what this would look like very large … and so I commissioned it.”
Odrick said it was “an amalgamation of things” that came together to make him want to present the sculpture to the Lebanon community.
He is drawn to public sculpture, he said, “and I wanted to create another dynamic that I felt that I enjoyed incorporating into my life.”
“I tend to stop and stare and appreciate different pieces that I’ve seen in different cities,” he explained. “I wanted to try to bring some type of public interpretative property to Lebanon. I wanted to bring a different aspect of social engagement to Lebanon.
“There are statues,” he added, “but there isn’t really anything that would be considered a figurative sculpture. … I thought this would be a subtle yet substantial way of providing some new social and interpretive property to Lebanon.”
‘A common open space’
A report in March indicated that the statue was going to be installed at the high school. In a joint statement issued that month, Lebanon School District superintendent Arthur Abrom and high school principal Bill Giovino said they were looking forward to the statue’s installation “with eager anticipation.”
“The commission of this art work is another example of how Jared has become a leader in the promotion of the arts after a successful football career in both the college and professional ranks,” they said in the statement. “Jared’s efforts to find a way to give back to the Lebanon community, and at the same time inspire insightful conversations through this donation, is greatly appreciated.”
Abrom told LebTown in late November the district would have welcomed the statue, but Odrick decided to put it elsewhere.
“It was Jared’s decision all along as to where to put his artwork,” Abrom said. “He had presented to us three possibilities – one was at our school, one was outside the football stadium, and one was at the park.”
The school board had voted to accept the gift in April, the superintendent said, but, “in the end, Jared thought putting it in the Northwest corridor, where more people could see it, led to his decision to place it in Coleman Park.”
Giovino noted that, although the park is not school property, it’s close to Northwest Elementary School and includes the school’s baseball field.
Also, Giovino said, “we’re still using it as a discussion piece for our students, on how to interpret art.”
With COVID-19 limiting the number of students at the high school, he added, more people will see the sculpture at the park anyway.
“It’s neat that someone from our school donated this sculpture that we all can enjoy,” Giovino said.
Giovino noted that Odrick has previously provided financial support to the Lebanon High School football team and the Academic Boosters. He also has addressed Lebanon High School students and read to students at Henry Houck Elementary School. In 2017, he helped to unveil the Lebanon County Christian Ministries’ FRESH Start Emergency Shelter and Resource Center, where a children’s playroom is dedicated to his grandmother, Mary Carolyn Hartman, and her spouse Jack Harmuth. Odrick commissioned local artist Olquin Perdomo to paint a mural for the playroom.
While living in Jacksonville, Odrick produced a citywide arts installation, Jaxtaposition, as well as multiple films with locally based filmmakers and artists.
Odrick said Friday he initially wanted the new piece to be installed at the high school, “but obviously the world has turned upside down, and we live in this inverted social space right now.”
“I’m really glad that the piece ended up at Coleman Park, because it can be shared by the whole city as well as the students, in a common open space,” he said.
‘A great talking point’
David Schnoke, chairman of the park’s board of trustees, said the sculpture is “a big asset to the park. Things are changing out there, and we’re trying to develop more of the back end of the park.” In fact, he said, they’re hoping to get grant money soon to build a pavilion near to the statue.
“There are a lot of people that walk in the park. It’s nothing but positive comments about the sculpture,” Schnoke said. “We are grateful to have it.”
Schnoke said his interpretation of the sculpture isn’t necessarily the same as someone else’s.
“I’m in my 70s. I’m looking back on my life,” he said. “That’s the meaning I get out of it — an adult looking back on his life as a child. Other people might get another meaning.”
David Funk, project manager for Funk Construction, which handled the installation of the statue at cost, said the piece is actually two statues – one of which is 11′ tall, the other 6′. Work was completed on Oct. 27, he said.
A post about the statue on the “Lebanon, PA Happenings” Facebook group in November drew a mixed response.
Paula Dubbs, who posted the initial message and photo of the art, said it “looks like Slender Man,” referencing a tall, thin, supernatural character that originated in memes before being featured in a horror movie in 2018.
“I think it’s absolutely stunning and thought provoking,” wrote Helene Ebright Bennett. “I hope others can see its beauty.”
Pamela Leob Brightbill said the statue is “different. Unique… Insightful. Art isn’t always pretty… sometimes it’s hauntingly beautiful.”
“I am no art critic, but not a fan of this,” said Linda Bates. Cari Daub said it “looks menacing.”
Some people called the statue “creepy,” while one said it looks “like an adult preying (on) kids.” One person said it represents an “alien encounter.”
“Based on some of the replies,” Scott C Darkes wrote in the lengthy thread, “Lebanon just is not ready for this kind of interpretive art.”
“Art is supposed to take you out of your comfort zone a bit, make you think, make you ask questions. This piece has certainly done that for a lot of you,” wrote Jennifer Jean. “I don’t really understand why this process makes everyone so angry, though.”
Kassy Kinney said: “No matter your thoughts it’s a great way to introduce art and a different point of view to the community. A great talking point and teaching moment.”
The artist agreed.
“No matter how this piece is understood by the viewer, my goal has been met if it inspires people think and feel,” Acott told LebTown. “That is what art is all about.”
‘The duality of myself’
Acott said “Conversation with Myself” is a piece that “creates the opportunity for self reflection, interaction, and conversation for the community of Lebanon. I hope that the sculpture will meet people where they are, and from there give them inspiration to reflect and consider the possibility of other perspectives as well.”
The piece has various interpretations, she said.
“Some people see a parent or teacher and child, some see an ‘inner child,'” she told LebTown. “Some see it as loving and accepting, and others as disciplining and scolding. For me, it is about the duality of myself: The small figure representing the self that is confused and lost or scared and small, and my ‘higher self’ represented by the large figure.
“I believe this duality is in each of us. We each have, within ourselves, an aspect of each of us that knows, loves, accepts, and understands who we are at the core. If we can learn to listen, we can find within ourselves, the help, support, encouragement and love to help us become the best version of ourselves.”
Acott said Odrick saw a smaller version of the sculpture “and was really moved by it.” He reached out to her about bringing the statue to Lebanon, she said.
The bronze was cast using “the lost wax method,” she said. Acott said the process is both time-consuming and labor-intensive, taking about a year to complete.
Odrick was involved “throughout the process” of creating the 1,500-pound piece, Acott added.
Although she’s been pleased by the feedback she’s received from Odrick and his team, Acott said she is “really excited” to hear from the community.
“I love to hear people’s interpretations and experiences with my work,” she said. People will often share ideas I have not considered, or realizations and perspectives that are new for them. The experience of ‘Ah-Ha!’ or epiphany is one of my favorites – for myself or in others, so I’m always looking for that in my own or others’ responses to my work.”
Odrick said he hopes the statue gives people who see it “an opportunity to stop, to pause, and take some time to interpret it.”
It doesn’t matter what message they take away from the sculpture, as long as they give it some thought, he said.
“Interpretation wouldn’t be much fun if I’m jamming it down your throat,” Odrick said.
This article was updated to include response from Coleman Memorial Park.
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