(Pictured: Shelly Casto's daughter, petting Jesse)
Artist Michael Mercil's Virtual Pasture will be coming to an end this Monday, December 5 in a brief closing ceremony, weather permitting, at 3 PM in the meadow outside the center, featuring all 13 sheep in the flock. (That's up from three sheep when the project started two years ago.) The free public event will also include music (Bach's Sheep May Safely Graze, of course), an auctioneer performance, and refreshments. Laptop "sweaters" and iPad "mittens" from the wool of the sheep will be available soon in the Wexner Center Store. Shelly Casto, the Wexner Center's director of education, weighs in about her (very personal) experiences with the project:
It has been my honor over the past few years to help artist Michael Mercil realize his vision to bring a discussion of the pastoral back to this profoundly urban portion of Ohio State's campus. Over the course of this project, he has raised his family of petite Shetlands on a bucolic organic farm and treated his charges to monthly outings to Columbus and the Wexner Center in order to help educate visitors, students, staff, and faculty about our relationship to the natural world, a relationship we tend to forget we're a part of. The sheep always seemed to take these outings in stride: munching on the lush grass happily and nonchalantly nuzzling Michael's giant television screen, which broadcasted their home farm live, 24 hours a day, winter, summer, spring, and fall.
In my personal life, Michael's project has introduced my own little family into a closer relationship with that bucolic organic farm (a k a Stratford Ecological Center). My husband and I had been aware of Stratford, but we had not properly treasured this place before Michael's sheep moved in, and we had the impetus to follow along. Since that time, my son has spent two summers at Stratford's farm camp and has declared it one of his favorite places. It's quite a compliment when a 10-year-old boy chooses a second week of farm camp over the Wexner Center's highly coveted Animated Game Design course! He frequently talks about one of the matrons in Michael's flock (Jesse) who grew up as a house pet and is particularly comfortable with human interaction. When I attended farm camp this past summer with my 5-year-old daughter, this particular sheep was set up in a pen close to the entrance area of the farm as a sort of welcoming committee. Unlike her daughters who would run from and bleat at anyone entering the pen, Jesse would patiently enjoy the eager pats of the no fewer than 40 preschoolers in our group. I realized that not only had Michael's project provided education to those students on campus who had never seen a sheep before, but it had also provided a very valuable entry point of human-animal connection for visitors to Stratford. From Jesse, they move on to picking their own vegetables, milking the goats, feeding the pigs and turning the cows out to graze. Along with these chores, my daughter and I also enjoyed our â€œmagic spotâ€ in the woods, creeking, jumping on hay bales in the barn, picking blackberries, catching butterflies, baking bread, gathering eggs, and chasing down goat escapees. Definitely memories I'll cherish.
Thank you, Michael, for bringing us a little closer to those agricultural roots that we all have in our ancestral past but that most of us have lost.