More About Graupel


Dru Colbert, College of the Atlantic Artist, Offers Graupel, an Opera


BAR HARBOR—You head to the end of an ice field. It is dusk. Noises emerge from across the lake. From the shadows emerges a light blue creature, large, but wearing what seems to be a baby’s sleeper, sweeping a broom across the ice. A glowing, amorphous shape edges forward; then another one. Across the ice in the distance, a sledge is drawn, lit by torches.

Welcome to the world of Graupel, Dru Colbert’s “opera,” in skating, sound, costume and words—but without song, to be enacted on Somes Sound at 5:30 p.m. on March 3 and 4. “Graupel: an opera of events,” is a performance piece of small vignettes, iced-in sculptures and odd creatures, created by Colbert, faculty member in art at College of the Atlantic, with the help of a host of college and community members.

Instead of sitting in a theater seat, this “opera” brings its audience out to the edge of the pond, and beyond, following guides from one theatrical set—or sculptural installation—to another, where vignettes of an ethereal world of natural science and science fiction occur. With artifacts and tools frozen in the ice, Colbert hopes to be conjuring memories of exploration and discovery. In fact, the opening scene is reminiscent of the opening of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” in which Dr. Frankenstein is seen in the distance by scientists on an Antarctic research vessel, as he follows a monster across the ice.

Held at the time of carnivals, and echoing some of the eerie nature that carnivals can hold, “Graupel” which refers to ice pellets, or more specifically, the precipitation that forms when freezing fog condenses upon a snowflake, is something of a celebration of winter, and an evocation of the idea of carnival in which things are never as they seem. Other vignettes are grounded in science. Among the stories Colbert tells is that of the digger wasp, which memorizes the landmarks around its burrow so that it can always find its way home.

“I look at this as a landscape painting,” says Colbert, “using the landscape and four dimensional elements to activate the place. It’s a tribute to that place in terms of conjuring up images and stories”—many of which refer to primitive searches and discoveries. Her fascination with natural and ancient history has been accentuated by the artist’s tenure at COA, in which Colbert often works closely with the scientists and assists with creating exhibits in the George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History, with some of the sculptures coming from bones deaccessioned by the museum.

Colbert holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she taught courses in installation art and visual communication before coming to COA. Concurrently, Colbert has been an active museum designer in Maine working with the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor and the Maine State Museum in Augusta, where she is a lead designer creating a major new exhibit of domestic life from the mid-eighteenth century until today. Colbert spent 13 years working on exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., ultimately serving as chief of design of the National Museum of American History.

As an artist, Colbert creates paintings, drawings, sculptural objects and multimedia installations, focusing on underlying stories so as to evoke memories in her viewers. “Upon moving to Maine in 1999,” she says, “I have been building on works that share a common theme of how Americans identify with the natural world, and how those ideas are presented through art and cultural institutions.”

The opera is free and opened to the public. Dress appropriately, as watching the performance entails following it across Somes Pond for approximately 45 minutes. Skates are optional; flashlights recommended. Somes Pond is in Somesville. Park on the Oak Hill Road near the public landing. For more information call 288-2944 ext. 227 or 257.

Dru Colbert


“Graupel”, an event that took place over the course of three nights on a frozen Pond in Somesville Maine, consisted of sculptural elements embedded in the ice, and vignette performances that included spoken text elements, puppetry, choreographed ice skating, sculptural props and costumes made by the artist, video projection and sound effects.
With the help of "Maine" guides, the audience skated, snowshoed, and skied through the work. The piece conjured natural phenomenon such as a "fish fall", visitors from another time and "space", mind reading exercises, a fish house shadow puppet play of Persephone entering the underworld and Natural History lectures.