What’s Inside:

November Greetings!

As the Western Massachusetts autumn weather rollercoasters into winter, Three Sisters Sanctuary remains open, ready to enchant and provide a haven of peace, discovery and reflection for all. While we likely have several relatively warm days still ahead of us, take caution when the paths are icy. When the snow settles in, bring your snowshoes to enjoy another facet of the beauty of Three Sisters Sanctuary- Where Art and Nature Merge in the Land of Goshen!

Our new exhibits by artists Michael Melle, James Kitchen, Cortni Frecha, and Robert Markey are still on display! Enjoy the new art additions to the Fairy House and the new seating areas in the Fairy Villa!

To Our Community: Happy Thanksgiving!

November is traditionally a month of gratitude and gathering. We reconnect with family and friends, extend invitations to join together and share what we have. We set a welcoming table and bring our best to it.

This year, the table may be smaller, the seats fewer, but the need to extend ourselves is greater than ever. Reach out. Be grateful. Heal.

In the Gardens

Gardening with Cesi at the Sanctuary

by Cesi Marseglia

As fall winds down, many people think about putting their gardens to bed for the season. As an ecologically-minded gardener, I have some tips for making sure the beloved insects, amphibians, mammals and birds in your garden that do so much work behind the scenes make it through the long winter. 

Despite the impulse of many to do a fall ‘clean-up’, autumn is a messy season for a reason. Dead stalks and leaves on garden plants provide places for beneficial insects and insect larvae to overwinter. The dried seed heads of plants such as echinacea, black-eyed susans, asters and goldenrod, if left standing in the dead of winter, provide essential food for seed-eating birds. 

Fallen leaves, aside from making excellent habitat for amphibians, spiders and insects, make excellent (and free!) mulch. Resist uprooting annuals as the root systems also feed worms, bacteria, fungi and other organisms, ultimately converting the dead root matter back into nutrients for other living plants and next season’s garden. Cut stalks at their base instead and place mulch on top.

So what is my advice to you, dear gardener? Embrace the messiness of autumn! Leave stalks in place, leave root systems in the ground, leave seed heads intact, and leave leaves on the ground where you can! Where you can’t, leaves can be shredded up and turned into top tier mulch for your garden beds. This “easy way” replenishes soil organic matter, soil carbon, and improves overall soil structure.

Two more phenomena in your yard or garden, the ecological benefit of which cannot be understated, are dead trees and brush piles. Brush piles are fabulous habitat for woodland mammals. If your brush pile is large enough, it may even provide a good place for a bear to hibernate! Dead wood left on the ground decomposes, and becomes wonderful, rich substrate for mosses and fungus to grow. All of this enriches the soil, strengthening the life that lives beneath the soil and on the forest floor. 

If you have a sizable dead tree in your yard, you may not realize it, but it’s likely harboring many dozens of different species inside of it that are preparing to overwinter! Flying squirrels, woodpeckers, bark beetles, deer mice, chickadees, ants, nuthatches, and owls are only a handful of the many species that call dead trees their home. If you are of the belief that you own the land you live on, and there is a large dead tree in your yard, consider yourself a landlord. Would you evict tens of families from their homes in the middle of the winter? 

If you are considering chopping down that dead tree in the coming months, consider the residents within. A good solution to a dangerous dead tree, one that might fall on someone or something, is to top it and leave its trunk standing. It may not look like a picture out of Better Homes and Gardens, but that is exactly what it is providing. A better home. A better garden. 

Another option, if it is in danger of causing damage if it falls, is to cut it down, but then leave the trunk where it falls or drag it to a place where it can provide shelter and food where it lies and decomposes. I recently saw a beautiful pileated woodpecker vigorously pecking away at a fallen trunk to relish the grubs inside. 

Autumn is a colorful reminder that nature’s messiness is also the creator and sustainer of life. So my message this November is to consider embracing messiness, clutter, close-knit things, micro-ecosystems and dead matter. Wait, and see what fruit your efforts, or lack thereof, bear in the spring!

Walk With Richard

By Richard M Richardson, Environmental Artist
Creator and Caretaker

I get a lot of requests to tell the story of the Dragon’s Den, which is such an important part of Three Sisters Sanctuary. The Dragon’s Den emerged as we were building the amphitheater, the Theater in the Round. We wanted a dry stone wall separating the Theater in the Round from the front half of the Sanctuary. As it was being built, it started to evolve into something much more than just a stone wall that separated the two areas. 

It takes a lot of patience and time to do dry stack stone work. Continuing through the second year of building this wall, I decided to build a portal that would look down on the Theater in the Round. That spring, I found a freestanding contemporary fireplace that allowed me to put in a chimney where I could now create a fire inside the portal. It also meant that I had to make the whole wall taller in order to allow the chimney to draw properly. 

As my friend Donnie and I lit the fire and watched the flames dance, we realized that as much as we wanted to wrap up the project, we also felt there was so much left to do. I said to Donnie, “It just seems to need more.” He said, “I know what’s needed! We need glass!”  I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “Richard, if we had glass, it would be magical!” Less than one week later, what did we have? Glass! Magical glass, one and a half inches thick! The idea of a real dragon was coming to life! 

There was so much involved. We were creating a mosaic structure and a dragon. It was challenging, but we persevered and over the course of the next year we built the head of the dragon. I had never done mosaic before or had done much sculpting, but slowly it took shape and came to life. 

When it was completed, people immediately started bringing personal items and leaving them at the Dragon’s Den. At first, there were a lot of memorial cards. I realized this was a way for people to let go of their grief. But then they started bringing something that was a significant memento in the lives of their loved ones. 

Ten years later, the Dragons Den has turned into what it is today- full of memories, full of trinkets, full of small meaningful objects representing love and care. I say this regularly: I am the one who designed and built the dragon and the Dragons Den, but the people who visit Three Sisters Sanctuary are the ones who brought it to life.

In this month of gathering, of families and remembrance, I would like to share the story of one family’s pilgrimage to the Dragon’s Den. This is the story of a man who came to the Sanctuary year after year with his family on Mother’s Day. The first time we met, I was standing on my deck and he called out, “You must be Richard Richardson. I saw you in the Chronicle. I’m from Boston and I came to see your art installation. My name is Anthony.” 

He wandered around the Sanctuary, but just before he left, he stopped by and said, “I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed myself today! Thank you for building something so beautiful and then opening it to the public. I look forward to bringing my family back and sharing this place with them.”

Another year goes by and one spring day, I look outside and I see Anthony again, now with a young lady. He introduces me to his daughter, Carmella. Anthony says, “Richard, we brought something to leave at the Dragon’s Den. I hope that’s all right.” I said, “Anthony, of course you can.” They went about their visit and later I saw the little ceramic angel they had left behind.

Spring comes again and on a bright Mother’s Day, I look out across the Sanctuary and see a familiar face. It’s Anthony with a short, older woman. He says, “Richard, this is my mother, Angelina. She also loves this kind of art and I couldn’t wait to bring her here and show her what you have done. Oh, and by the way, is it all right if I leave something in the Dragon’s Den again?” Of course, Anthony.

This last year, I realized I hadn’t seen Anthony on Mother’s Day. Instead, on a midsummer’s day, I saw a family enter the Sanctuary. I recognized Anthony’s daughter and then met his wife and his grandson. His wife said, “Richard, my husband Anthony always enjoyed visiting, especially on Mother’s Day. This past year, Anthony’s mother passed away and then Anthony passed away shortly after her. He always enjoyed the Dragon’s Den. If it’s alright with you, we would like to leave a small memorial behind for Anthony and his mother.” 

I was so touched by their pilgrimage and how much it meant to their family. They left two whimsical objects, side by side, and I often gaze upon them and think not only of Anthony, but of all the people who enter the Dragon’s Den and leave a piece of their heart and some of their hurt behind.

Meet The Artist: John Bander

 by Dawn E Dobson

Turner Falls, Massachusetts, a small historic town on the Connecticut River, seems an unlikely spot for avant-garde, “steam punk” iron sculpture. And Jon Bander, a soft-spoken and humble young man, does not, at first glance, seem to fit the persona of an up-and-coming rock star, heavy metal sculptor. But first impressions can be deceiving, especially in the art world.

Bander’s work is astonishing. Not only for its imaginative and supple creativity, but also for the high level of craftmanship and the extraordinary precision found in his art. “I’m a professionally taught welder and an untaught artist,” says Bander. The space where those two worlds bisect is undeniably pure gold. 

Art, machinery, and welding run in Jon Bander’s family. His mother is local artist Nina Rossi, a longtime member of the Shelburne Artist Cooperative and owner of Nina’s Nook, a small gallery in Turner’s Falls. His father, Mark Bander, was a skilled mechanic and his older brother, William, is a professional welder. Marrying all those footsteps into a single purpose was an obvious path, particularly with the natural camaraderie and competitiveness found in siblings. Following his brother’s lead, Bander attended Franklin County Technical School, and enrolled in the welding and metal fabrication program. He continued his studies at Greenfield Community College and at the Advanced Welding Institute in Burlington, Vermont, becoming a certified welder and embarking on a skilled trade career while dabbling in metal sculpture on the side.

But, there are undercurrents when growing up in an artistic household, regardless of when one catches the fire: Art is important. Creativity has value. Originality is treasured. There are materials and collections, ongoing projects and crafts. Bander recalls one particular moment when he realized the dabbling was becoming something more.

“I was taking a psychology course at GCC and the final assignment was to create something that was about psychology. I decided to make a metal sculpture of a brain out of nuts and bolts and gears. Although I had done some metal sculpture work before, this really kicked things off for me as an artist.”

And so began the never-ending quest for materials. “I collect lots of metal pieces and then I just start welding. I have an image in my head, but the materials really lead me and dictate what I eventually do with them.” Bander continues, “I browse through Loot, a store in Turner’s Falls with odds and ends. I pick up old machine parts and bicycle parts- old chains and sprockets. Lately, I’ve been into old motorcycle parts as they are bigger- pistons, camshafts, bearings.” 

As his artwork evolved, Jon Bander began to generate considerable buzz at area exhibits and shows. Undoubtably, one of his biggest breakthroughs came on his 21st birthday, when the Master of Steam Punk himself, Bruce Rosenbaum gave him a call. 

“He had seen my art at the Quad in Springfield and invited me to work with him. Since then, I have done several pieces with him, including an 8 ft. long kinetic dragon sculpture in a room at the Adventure Suites Motel in North Conway, New Hampshire, and a recently completed steam punk, large aquarium with a metal octopus surrounding it, straight out of Jules Verne’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,’ commissioned by client.”

Three Sisters Sanctuary is thrilled to showcase several of Bander’s pieces, including the black widow “Spider,” the grinning crab-like creature “Bob, and the spectacular raptor “Cutlery Carnivore,” made entirely from over 400 pieces of flatware and cutlery. 

At age 26, Jon Bander is now devoted full-time to his craft, stepping firmly onto his path and wearing the mantle of an artist with ease. “I want to go wherever it takes me. I want to establish myself as a sculptor and be the best I can be and continue doing it.”  Bravo, Jon! Visit Bander’s website, www.notorious-weld.com to view online galleries with prices. Pieces on exhibit at the Sanctuary are also for sale.

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