Each year, the Howard County Arts Council brings artwork by regional artists to public locations throughout the County in a project called ARTsites. This year, they chose Savage Mill to be a host site and, with our input, paired us with a sculpture created by Bobby Donovan entitled “Can You Hear Me Now?”. The sculpture’s compelling title, proportions, and use of materials and objects reminiscent of the Mill’s history make it a good fit for its prominent location overlooking Savage Mill.
Bobby Donovan has other public art installations under his belt. One that garnered a lot of attention was an abstract piece titled “Shoals” that was on display in the center of Westgate Circle in Annapolis for over nine years. He’s also the director of the Hyattstown Mill Arts Project, a cultural arts organization that works with Montgomery County to preserve the region’s cultural heritage.
We spoke with Bobby and his wife Cyndi during the installation of the new piece to get a better understanding of Bobby, his art, and this piece in particular.
Tell us about Can You Hear Me Now?
Can You Hear Me Now? addresses our universal need for communication and how difficult it can be sometimes to speak clearly and to listen deeply. It is particularly difficult when speaking powerful truths that may not be readily understood or easily accepted. Language can be a destabilizing force – throwing people and concepts off balance, sometimes for good, sometimes not.
I have chosen to create an image of hope. While the long beam resting atop the arc begs precarious instability, it is not tilting. We see that it is balanced. The path for each is level. It is now simply a matter of closing the gap.
What inspired you to submit this as your proposal for Howard County’s 2023 ARTsites?
ARTsites is a terrific program. I apply every year. Sometimes work is accepted , other times it is not, but I never miss the chance to submit a proposal. The way the program works is that the hosting sites choose from submitted proposals. The artists are not involved in site selection so I didn’t choose Savage Mill, the folks at Savage Mill chose my work. I’m grateful they did as it is a lovely site.
How do you think “Can You Hear Me Now?” fits into its surroundings here at Savage Mill?
The artwork incorporates a rusted eight-foot wheel form. Spindled wheels like this have an immediate sense of industrial purpose. It’s a nostalgic reference to previous times when our industries were all about manufacturing raw materials to products. There is something very appealing about simple industrial forms. Maybe because they are easily understood. I am unable to comprehend today’s industrial tools – microchipped electronic algorithms and computer codes. I find it overwhelming.
How do you hope visitors respond to the installation?
Some public art, of course, is simply esthetic. Most of what I produce is in this category. These artworks are not designed to share any direct message or commentary. They simply exist as curious objects for contemplation.
Can You Hear Me Now? is different. It is one of the few sculptures I’ve produced that is meant to address a specific idea. I hope visitors will appreciate the work as a visual metaphor for the importance of clear, honest communication. As the title suggests, communication can be challenging. It requires balance.
You’ve had public art installations in other locations, such as one titled “Shoals” that was on display in Annapolis for almost a decade. Why do you do public art installations?
I enjoy the challenges each public art site presents. Each site has its own personality and it’s remarkable how surroundings influence a work of art. Putting up artwork in a previously unknown setting allows me to see my work from a fresh perspective. I feel that I learn something new with each installation.
I’ve installed art all along the East Coast and even some work in the Desert Southwest. It’s a wonderful way to encounter communities and enjoy landscapes that I would have otherwise never have encountered.
You’ve been an artist for decades, a painter, printmaker, sculptor, and amateur builder. And you’re the director of the Hyattstown Mill Arts Project in Montgomery County. What do you hope your legacy is in the communities where you work and live?
Being a part of a cultural community – having close group of friends and colleagues that understand what you are trying to achieve, this is the only real value an artist can hope for. Legacy is way over-rated. What really matters is the care you take in the present.