raw wool from New England farms, scaffolding, debris netting, steel, fishing net, rope, 72x6x8 feet, 2013
As a landscape installation artist I am always aware of a sense of place. “Where am I?” is a beginning point for my work. The answer starts large and goes smaller, for example for this installation: America, New England, Boston, Christian Science Plaza, on a concrete building. These become the jumping off points for the concepts and forms of my sculpture. The Lighthouse is an archetypal image for New England. Boston Harbor was the home of the first lighthouse in North America, built back in 1716. The history of this particular lighthouse on Little Brewster Island is fascinating. Did you know that one of the early lighthouse keepers kept sheep on the island? When I imagined the sound of seagulls, the fog horn, waves, sheep bleating, wind through the stays of a ship, large ropes creaking as it moves in the wind I knew what materials and situations I wanted to incorporate in to The Lighthouse.
Working in an urban landscape brought new materials into my work, such as scaffolding, rope, ladder, and electric light. Bringing in an unfamiliar material to the city such as raw undyed wool, provides a contrast of texture, smell and movement to the static concrete and stone materials of the plaza. It calls down to the movement of wind on the water of the nearby reflecting pool. The straight large sisal rope follows the lines of the scaffolding yet has a slow movement and provides a bridge between the steel scaffolding and the natural material and curves of the wool netting. The materials also represent the industries influenced by the landscape of New England. The fishing, wool/agrarian, shipping and construction industries are all in The Lighthouse. And, if I may indulge here, the solar and electric energy industry, are touched upon as well, (The Lighthouse interacts with the sun during the day, and is lit up by electricity at night). These materials combine urban and rural, mobile and immobile, masculine and feminine elements. There are different versions of the grid static and stretched.
We artists are always looking for the light. Perhaps all animals do. In this case, The Lighthouse welcomes the light in the morning, noon and all night. In the morning I look for shadows to the right, in afternoon I look for the sun to be the light at the top of The Lighthouse in summer and shining through the top in the fall. At night, the lights of Boston dress up the city and the Christian Science Plaza knows how to do this exquisitely. The Lighthouse presents a light coming from within. Look for it in the Reflecting Pool.
The angles and vastness of the plaza in contrast with the roundness of domes and columns of the Mother Church came into the design of the piece. The scaffolding, basically an erector set, provides the angular grid of the beautiful plaza in a rounded column form. The top “light” section of the lighthouse references the dome of the church and creates a "section" of the concrete building up above itself and a little removed, perhaps floating. It was important in the design of The Lighthouse to allow the wool to weave in and out of the scaffolding and not drape over or hide it. This provided view points from all over the plaza to be different, especially from below. I did not want the scaffolding to dictate where the wool could go. This is a windy Plaza! I wanted to highlight different movements in the wind: The scaffolding as immobile, the heavy rope sways slowly, the wool netting as playful, breathing, and forever changing as the wool gets teased, whitened and felted in the elements.
The process of making the lighthouse started in the barns of New England where I collected raw wool from farmers near my studio. For eight months over 200 feet of fishing net was woven with over 200 pounds of wool. The primarily female task of weaving combined with the primarily male industry of building and fishing, was a concept that played in my head and came into the design. I imagined, in the past, men on docks mending their fishing nets at the same time as women wove wool from their sheep for clothing. My studio was full of the comforting smell of lanolin, which may be caught from time to time on the plaza in the right breeze. And who knows, perhaps a lock of wool from the farms of New England will drift down for you to pick up, feel its texture, and remember, somewhere in your ancestry their was a farm.