Monday, August 31, 2009

Benches by Renoir

They are just ordinary benches, used by Bernheim visitors who are waiting for their friends and family to finish in the restrooms. People who are tired and hot after a hike in the woods plop down on them with a groan of relief to have a seat in the shade. Grandparents listen and smile while grandchildren shout to hear their echoes in the concrete silos housing the vending machines.
From a distance, the benches look like they are painted a pale green, which has faded and peeled from exposure to the weather. The ecologically minded might guess the benches to be made from recycled milk jugs. It sounds like something Bernheim might do. As you come nearer, however, the green appears to be made of small splotches in at least 50 different shades of green, gray and brown, applied by an Impressionist painter. The lifeless bench has become a living thing now. It's been adopted and absorbed by the many small flat lichens in green and grey.
Although the lichens are worn away by human seats and hands and cares, they don't give up. Lichens quietly fill in the sides of the seat slats where no human can touch them. Eventually, more complex lichens establish a foothold in a secluded spot near the edge of the bench, curling like layers of pale green lace. At times, the lichens sprout what appears to be spiny needles along their edges. What small predator might hunt these lichens causing them to develop such a defense?
Did Renoir imagine such things when he created are in splotches of paint? If the lichens were removed, would the bench still exist? There is a world of life in the slats of a plain bench, beyond what we can imagine. My soul is enriched by knowing of it.


NCmountainwoman said...

Wonderful post. I wonder at the stories that bench could tell...

Anonymous said...

Beautiful piece! Thanks for describing our wonderful Bernheim benches so eloquently.
-Margaret Zurkuhlen
Bernheim Development Director