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Chris Rosenblum: Not hard to find #BigVespa

Local artist William Snyder sits in front of his 2-D sculpture #BigVespa, an homage to the iconic scooter, at the Rhoneymeade Sculpture Garden.
Local artist William Snyder sits in front of his 2-D sculpture #BigVespa, an homage to the iconic scooter, at the Rhoneymeade Sculpture Garden. Photo provided

Driving toward Stormstown, I scanned the usual sights.

Homes, fields, woods, a church, a cemetery, a barn — all were standard issue for around here, so familiar they barely registered.

Then a pop art vision emerged from the verdant landscape, seizing my attention. A 16-foot high sculpture of a red Vespa scooter standing in a pasture?

Now that’s hard to pass over.

The last time I saw “#BigVespa,” local artist William Snyder’s homage to the iconic scooters, it guarded the corner of Beaver Avenue and Fraser Street in downtown State College, drawing curious glances from passers-by.

That stint as public art ended last November. But how did it come to be in the Halfmoon Township countryside, as out of place as a scarecrow in the middle of an urban plaza? Anybody can put out a pink flamingo. Did some iconoclastic art-lover buy it as a unique lawn ornament?

Not yet. #BigVespa is still for sale. Snyder brought it out of storage this spring and received permission to install it on the Greenmoore Gardens farm on May 22.

Don’t go looking for it there, though. #BigVespa — a nod to a time of selfies and hashtags and titled, in Snyder’s words, to “reinforce the obvious” — has moved along. This Vespa, all nearly 900 pounds of it, gets around.

Recently, it traveled across the county to Potter Township and the Rhoneymeade Arboretum and Sculpture Garden. Until July 26, it will be parked in a nook between two shrubs, available for viewing in all its aluminum glory on Sunday afternoons noon to 5 p.m.

For a two-dimensional vehicle its size, #BigVespa is surprisingly mobile. Snyder and three helpers disassembled the two main sections and a steel, sandbag-reinforced base in about 90 minutes to make the trip.

These days in its new surroundings, the sculpture extends Snyder’s fascination with scale. Now that he knows #BigVespa can hit the road without trouble, he’s looking forward to experimenting with locations, “trying to get a sense of its bigness.”

“It almost surprised me how small it looked downtown next to the (Fraser Street) parking garage,” he said. “When it’s in my garage, it’s ginormous.”

Even out in an open field, #BigVespa didn’t live up to its billing.

“The barn was huge in comparison. Is it forever the plight of a Vespa to feel tiny?” he said.

In contrast, he likes the Rhoneymeade setting because it forces viewers to look up and contemplate the Vespa up close.

“I loved it inside because it would confront you,” he said. “It seemed big in an interior space when you wouldn’t expect to see something that large.”

Sort of like a 12-foot pair of eyeglasses.

Snyder’s latest sculpture, titled “Mongoose,” hangs from the ceiling of the Happy Valley Optical office in State College like a latter-day version of the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg.

Unlike the Vespa, the glasses aren’t moving any time soon. Probably for many years, patients will be able to peer at the welded aluminum frames linked by a bridge of maple, cherry and walnut butcher block layers pressed together.

Others can view the glasses at a public reception 6-9 p.m. July 10 at Happy Valley Optical during the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.

Snyder’s title may have come largely from free association, but there was nothing random about his choice to accept Dr. Scott Dutt’s commission. The six-month project stemmed from a belief in making art accessible to the public, and from appreciation for a business willing to support a local artist.

“It’s an honor,” Snyder said. “It’s a good thing that Scott is taking some steps to invest in artwork, and I think it’s a good model if we want to attract artists and innovators to live in the Centre Region.”

Over the years, Snyder sometimes has pondered whether to make a name for himself in art centers such as New York or Miami. He did exhibit his “800,000 Acknowledge. Remember. Renew,” an interactive memorial to the Rwandan genocide, at the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan.

By now, though, the lure doesn’t pull as sharply. He’s content with his audiences — friends, neighbors, everyday people from his community. He wants them to enjoy his work, and that’s why giant eyeglass frames adorn an office and a Lichtenstein-esque Vespa graced a field and now a sculpture garden.

If they crack a smile, think for a few minutes or perhaps are inspired “to dream a little bit bigger” while going about their days, then Snyder will have succeeded.

“That’s the kind of response I’m hoping for,” he said. “I enjoy the gallery shows, and I would love to see the Vespa at the Palmer (Museum of Art) or a similar kind of venue. But at the end of the day, I want people to engage and respond to it.”

Where #BigVespa heads next remains uncertain.

It could be the City of Brotherly Love. Snyder submitted it to the Philadelphia Convention Center’s open call for art.

It could be Manhattan. Snyder has been in contact with the city’s Vespa club for a possible installation.

It could be the backyard of a hardcore Vespa fan somewhere.

But if it’s not accepted or bought, Snyder still will reap rewards. He’ll have the pleasure of playing with the piece and finding new local sites — maybe hanging off a wall or perched atop a roof.

Together, he and #BigVespa are on a journey, each stage adding a story. He doesn’t know where he’s taking it, but that’s fine.

Neither does he know where it’s taking him.

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