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The Dancers in the Garden

Hi. I’m Walking Bob. I was about three miles into my walk and once again I found myself in Central Park. My compassionate friend, David, was at his usual place on the corner, but this time I decided I’d like to just sit for a while in the herb garden. I enjoy “Flutter and Hum”, Mark Rivera’s ceramic mosaic vase, and the other art placed at just the right spot here and there around the garden, my favorite has always been those dancing women on top of that rock.

I did a little research in the handy City of Davis Public Art Walking Tour” pamphlet that helps people walk around and look at public art and learned that the “Cnawan Stone” sculpture’s base is basalt, the dancers are bronze, and the person who created it was Sandra Shannonhouse. I have always been intrigued by the dancers, but this time I spent more time looking at all of the petroglyphs carved into the basalt and wondering what they mean.

After taking a few more photos and wandering around the herb garden, I walked home to learn more about the art and the artist. I discovered that Sandra was still creating art that was being displayed in Benicia, and that she had also created a baptismal font for a church here in Davis. I learned that she got both her B.A. and her M.F.A. at U.C. Davis and that she is the widow of Robert Arneson, the former U.C. Davis professor and artist who created the U.C. Davis eggheads and was a major influence on many artists.

I was able to contact Sandra and she told me that the snakes, masks, birds, fish, water and other symbols all relate to transformation myths, as do herbs. She said she’d always been fascinated by what she called “shape-shifters”, which she said referred to “images whose meaning and value to cultures has evolved over time.” Atop the symbols and the solid basalt, she placed what she referred to as “a circle of cast bronze exuberant female dancers.” Exuberant they are and I have taken many photos of the dancers, with one of my favorites designed to make it look like they were dancing in the Central Park Fountains.

The next time I walked downtown, I moved beyond the Cnawan Stone and found the unique baptismal font with fish, waves and water symbols around the basin.

The font sits upon a large unusual stand that Shannonhouse describes as “a sort of woven Celtic knot gone awry.” That font is a central image at the church, but nobody I spoke to was aware of the history or the special artist who created it, until now. If the font doesn’t look familiar to you, it sounds like a good excuse to go visit some local churches to track down another of Sandra Shannonhouse’s unique visions.

You can also see Sandra’s creations at the Benicia Library and the Solomon Dubnick Gallery in Sacramento, but those are out of Walking Bob’s range, so I’ll sign off for another week and leave you with one more image that was carved into the basalt that explains why the Cnawan Stone fits so well in Davis. I’ll just bet that Benicia doesn’t have a toad tunnel.

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