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Bring the Family

Hike fuses art, audio, altitude

Glenn Dickson

WHO: Milva DiDomizio with her husband and daughter

WHAT: Climbing a museum

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WHERE: Andres Institute of Art, Brookline, N.H.

The Andres Institute of Art was born when engineer, art aficionado, and nature lover Paul Andres bought Big Bear Mountain in Brookline, N.H., in 1996 and collaborated with sculptor John M. Weidman to create something unique. Artists from all over the world have come to the mountain to create site-specific sculptures that become permanent additions to the collection.

Currently, there are more than 70 works situated along walking trails on the sculpture park’s 140 acres. The website indicates that guided tours can be arranged, but we decided to brave the mountain on our own, armed with a map and audio tour taken from the website. Most of the trails are categorized as easy. We stuck to those, and found the description accurate. Even though the hiking isn’t demanding, if you go, make sure you bring the necessary supplies: sturdy shoes, water, sun protection, bug spray, and snacks.

The first sculpture we encountered was Pilar Aldana Mendez’s “Negotiation Table.” The audio tour informed us that the artist was inspired by the site’s roomlike feel. Visitors are invited to touch and interact with all the art, so we sat around the stone table and pondered the Greek characters which translate to “I speak” and “I listen.”

After that, we made our way up the Parkway Road Trail and observed Milen Vassilev’s “The Boat,” composed of a boat-shaped large rock atop a multi-textured supporting column meant to invoke various watery states like still, choppy, or rough. After the audio tour interpreted the boat and river as metaphors for life’s journey, we decided to give up on it. Hiking the mountain and analyzing the art on our own was more fun.

A short detour onto the Halfway Trail led us to James Riviello III’s “Water and Rock,” inspired by the New England coastline. Blue reflections streamed onto the stone from a plate of azure glass embedded into the sculpture, creating a lovely effect.

Next came Hoa Bich Dao’s “Alignment.” As I looked at the stone moon atop the stone columns, I couldn’t help thinking the work looked like it had dropped from the sky, like the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

For fun, we liked Marcus Vergette’s whimsical “Stone Paper Scissors,” a big rock nestled inside the “blades” of a many-trunked tree. Just when we needed a rest, lawn furniture was provided by Peter Harris’s “Contempo Rustico.” You’re welcome to stretch out on it, but don’t be surprised if it’s a little hard.

Of the works depicting humanoid or other figures, our favorite was Tomas Kus’s “Debate,” three figures made of junkyard scraps situated in a shaded clearing. In their animal heads and biped bodies, we spied wrenches, spark plugs, and a glass orb.

As cool as the sculptures are, the mountain itself is definitely one of the main attractions. Where there’s not a work of art, there’s nature, most of it pleasing (the peacefulness of the trails, mountain laurels in bloom, and wild berries and daisies), and some of it not so (gnats).

In the final analysis, we voted the fusion of large-scale sculptures with Mother Nature a winner. It might even get your kids’ creative juices flowing. That’s how it worked for one little girl we witnessed. In the shadow of one of the giant works of art she built her own tiny stone pyramid, then looked up at her mother and exclaimed with awe, “Mommy, look at mine.”

Andres Institute of Art, 98 Route 13, Brookline, N.H. Open daily during daylight hours. Free. 603-673-8441, www.andresinstitute.org.

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