With a 14-year tenure as the president of a prestigious liberal arts college under his belt, the world will be President Barry Mills’ oyster when he steps down from his position this spring. And the Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) won’t let him forget it.
Last night, at their final meeting of the year, the BSG and class councils presented President Mills with a sculpture made out of oyster shells. The piece, a life-size female silhouette, was imagined and constructed earlier this year by Ben Eisenberg ’17.
“We thought a long time about what to give President Mills,” said Chris Breen ’15, BSG president. “What do you get someone who’s already been gifted everything Bowdoin-related?”
Breen and the rest of the BSG decided that a student-created gift would be ideal. When Dean Tim Foster dropped the hint that President Mills had expressed interest in purchasing the oyster shell sculpture while browsing a student art show last fall, they knew they had found it. “We heard that he even had a perfect spot picked out for it in his house,” said Breen.
Eisenberg created the piece in Professor John Bisbee’s Sculpture II class last semester. “Out first assignment was to write down 200 objects that you could make a sculpture out of,” said Eisenberg, “And then, in class, [the professor] said, ‘Okay now choose three.’” Eisenberg was left with oyster shells, toothpicks and spoons. Upon his professor’s suggestion, he chose the first. “What I love about it is that it’s a sculpture made out of individual sculptures,” said Eisenberg. “I just wanted to make something beautiful that was representative of where I am geographically but also where I am in life. I wanted to make a piece that people would look at and say, ‘Hey! That’s pretty! It makes me happy that it’s pretty!’”
In total, the piece contains over 500 oyster shells — the leftovers from two Sunday afternoons worth of business at Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland — strung to cover a welded metal frame. The preparation work was arduous. “I got terrible rashes and burns on my hands from cleaning [the shells] in bleach,” said Eisenberg. “You walked into Edwards and it smelled like low tide for a month.”
This is the first art piece that Eisenberg has sold. “I’m honored. It’s such a privilege,” he said.