If you drive along the Main Line with any frequency, you've likely seen the art of Ed Basner, a retired dentist, lifelong Wynnewood resident, and renegade rock sculptor.
Basner is the man responsible for the arranged piles of rocks across the Main Line—some of which can be found at train stations, others in front of shops, and some in vacant lots, like the one located in Ardmore at Lancaster Ave. and Ardmore Ave.
Basner has sculptures in Lower Merion, Radnor and Media, and at one point, had 24 standing simultaneously.
For many who see Basner's sculptures, the burning question is: What do they all mean?
"They mean I have too much time on my hands," Basner joked, when he met with Patch on Wednesday afternoon.
"What's important to me is that other people enjoy them ... and for a while, I honestly didn't think anyone else noticed them," he said.
But gradually, in the past four years since Basner first began his public art installations—at his mother's home at Oak Hill Condos in Penn Valley—people have begun taking notice.
Especially at Lancaster Ave. and Ardmore Ave., where the sculpture is very visible, he gets a lot of feedback. Even during our brief interview at the lot on Wednesday, a young man walked by and took a photo of the sculpture with his laptop.
"It gives me a good feeling when people photograph it, or say they like it and enjoy seeing it," Basner said. "I'm hoping it will give them some inspiration to do something artistic—and even young kids who knock it over, when they're mature enough, I hope they'll say, 'Wow, that was art.'"
And yes, people definitely enjoy knocking the sculptures over. Basner rebuilds many of his sculptures weekly, and the one at the Ardmore Ave. lot, almost daily.
"Sometimes, it's a few birds that knock over the little rocks on top," Basner explained. "But when I find 60-pound boulders a hundred feet away in a dumpster, I have to ask if that was a bird or a squirrel."
A few days ago at Ardmore Ave., that scenario actually happened. After Basner discovered that the rocks were MIA, he embarked on a rescue mission, searching through shrubs, and finally found the two large, heavy rocks in a dumpster down the road.
Unfazed by the frequent demolitions, Basner has some thoughts as to the likely culprits.
"I think it's kids," Basner said. "When my daughter was a baby, I'd build little piles of cardboard boxes... and she'd be delighted to knock it all down. Young kids just think it's cool to knock something down, and it's easier to destroy than it is to build."
Most of Basner's sculptures take 20 to 45 minutes to build, depending on the size and complexity, he said.
In four years worth of rock piles, Basner has only had one run-in with the police—for building on the lot at Ardmore Ave., which is private property. The police ended up, Basner said, deciding he was harmless.
"It used to be fun wondering if the police would catch me and I'd get arrested," Basner said. "But the police, I assume, have greater things to spend their time doing."
Basner's wife is a mixed media artist, his son makes "amazing" pen and ink drawings, and his daughter studied art in college—but Basner never dabbled in traditional art.
"My artwork was dentistry, which is actually a creative profession," Basner explained. "When we used amalgam, we would carve the amalgam and really make it look like a tooth. … That was my artistry."
Whether it's dentistry or piles of rocks, art doesn't always have to be traditional—and that's one of several messages Basner hopes people get out of his sculptures.
"Art should be something that’s shared," Basner advised, "and if you have some artist talent, do something with it—don't hold it in."
Basner's art is viewable along the Main Line, including at:
- Ardmore Ave. and Lancaster Ave.: In the empty lot adjacent to Lancaster Ave.
- Wynnewood Train Station: One on the track level, opposite the station, and one on a tiered garden by steps leading up to the station from Penn Road
- Ardmore Train Station: Down the tracks from the station, and meant for train passengers to see—"it's difficult to find and dangerous," Basner said.
- Oak Hill Condos in Penn Valley: One on a small island leading to the swimming pool, one on small island leading to the tennis courts
- Hamper Consignment and Thrift Shop in Narberth: On a pedestal in front of The Hamper Shop on Montgomery Avenue
- St. Asaph's Road and Monument Road: As you come up from the Presidential Condos, it's on the left just past Monument Road
- Sproul Road and Lancaster Ave. in Radnor: In the little park across from the bank on Sproul Road and the stores on Lancaster Ave.
- Radnor Memorial Park: On a boulder along the paved trail
- Media Lima Dental Associates: This one, at the dentist office where he used to work, is one of Basner's favorites, he said.
Editor's note: Ed is also a new blogger on Ardmore Patch. Read his first post "Rock Sculptures, On Mother's Day."