Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

March 16, 2014

Artist climbs ladders to create public art project

BLUEFIELD, Va. — There is a sculpture taking shape on the College Avenue-side of the Bluefield College campus that is designed to elevate the spirits of those who care to enjoy its artistry as well as to lift the spirits of the community.

The public art project by Charlie Brouwer, a retired Radford University art professor, is titled “Bluefield Rising Together.” The work is made entirely out of ladders — some borrowed and some donated — that are representative of the community.

“We could still use some more ladders,” Brouwer said as he strapped one ladder to another with a plastic zip tie. “The ladders come from all over the community. We accept all kinds of ladders. One young person brought us a bathroom step stool. Someone else brought a ladder from a bird cage.”

Bluefield Rising Together is the tenth in Brouwer’s “Rising” series, with previous works appearing in Roanoke, Va., Atlanta, Winston-Salem, N.C., Grand Rapids, Mich., Floyd County, Va., and more.

“People put their own interpretation into the work,” he said. “It’s a public art project, so everybody can participate. When everybody in a community participates together, only then can we truly rise together.”

Brouwer, 67, was born and raised at Holland, Mich., attended college there, and taught art in Australia for a time before returning to the U.S., and returning to Michigan to teach high school art. While there, he earned his master of arts degree from Western Michigan University. In 1987, he joined the faculty as an art professor at Radford University. He retired from RU in 2008. He and his wife of 47 years, Glenda DeKam, have two daughters and live in Floyd County, Va.

“Someone stopped here while I was working and said that he didn’t have a ladder and said: ‘Here’s $50,’” Brouwer said. “Another young man came by, was impressed with the project and gave me $40. I asked Walter (Shroyer) to go to Lowe’s ans see if he could pick up a ladder for $40.”

Brouwer said that he listens to a sound track when he is working on one of his sculptures. “Bruce Springsteen has a great version of, ‘I am climbing Jacob’s Ladder.’ It’s on my sound track. Have you heard it?” he asked.

The project has been made possible through the Janie Poteet Light Fund for Art Studies, of the Community Foundation of the Virginias Inc. People can bring their ladders to the campus, or contact Allison Forlines, BC gallery director at (304) 888-4973, and she will dispatch Professor Walter Shroyer, chair of the BC Department of Art and Design to pick it up. The last ladder will be added to the sculpture at 5 p.m., today. The sculpture will remain in place until April 10. People who contribute ladders to the project can pick them up or have them returned from April 13-18.

To Brouwer, each individual ladder represents the hopes and dreams the lender aspires to whether its an individual, family a church, school or civic organization. Brouwer said that he hopes Bluefield Rising Together will draw attention to the concept of the hopes and dreams of the community all rising together.

— Contact Bill Archer at

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