He leaned into the engine compartment, the rain misting and blowing like a giant, continuous raspberry from the sky, and he checked the oil as a perfectly round, woven ball of hay sat fixed to the roof of his Toyota Yaris.
“Excuse me, sir. What’s the story with the hay,” I asked, ranging over from my gas pump at the Expressways at 13 Highway and Business 50.
“It’s an art project but also a roadside attraction that travels,” said Michael Shaughnessy, throwing away the oily paper towel and returning to graciously talk about his adventure.
I thought maybe he was on his way to feed some spoiled heifers or maybe he was delivering yard art to a friend out in the country.
No, turns out Mr. Shaughnessy is a serious artist from Portland, Maine. And he’s driving his woven hay ball across the country. He made a brief stop in Warrensburg Friday on his way to Kansas City. And he’s headed to Portland, Ore., documenting his encounters and trading photos with curious people like myself.
“OK, look at the hay ball…smile!”
Mr. Shaughnessy is quite pleasant and our brief visit was nice. But it wasn’t until I lurked on his website when I felt the gravity of this guy. And that’s when I recalled seeing one of his installations at the Kemper Museum in Kansas City years ago – some massive woven hay installation.
“We don’t have enough wonders in the world and things that just make people smile,” Mr. Shaughnessy said.
He’s shown his work all over the place, from the Lehman Art Gallery in the Bronx, New York, and the Portland Museum of Art in Maine to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in Kansas City and the University of Missouri in Columbia.
“For many years my work has involved the sculptural use of hay. As a grass it is a material that is familiar and accessible. It is used across cultures and it carries a depth of history and associations. It is seasonally based and regenerative, according to the artist’s statement on his website.
“Formally, my works embrace multiple aesthetic sensibilities ranging from minimalism to intuitive abstraction. It is highly social with a strong populist concern. It values artisanship and common and collaborative labor. By virtue of its material, its handling and forms it resonates with social/political and environmental associations and concerns.”
So, yes, his excursion across America is part traveling art exhibit and part social experiment. And it worked. On me at least.
That ball of hay pulled me from the daze of a long day staring at a screen, meetings and all-pervasive thoughts of “What next.” And, yeah, I may have smiled, too.
Go lurk for yourself: www.thehayball.com.