New arch to meld nature, place and form

8:45:42 AM CDT - Thursday, October 07, 2004

By Shannon Littlejohn

Andy Goldsworthy fairly teems with enthusiasm when asked about his latest work. A wiry fellow with sun-washed muscular arms sporting an Elvis tattoo on one, the British artist and photographer was on campus to survey the space his massive limestone arch will fill.

Goldsworthy, internationally acclaimed for his artistic melding of nature, place and form, has accepted a commission from the Ulrich Museum of Art to create a permanent arch out of native limestone on the grounds south of Wilner Auditorium near the 17th Street and Fairmount entrance to campus.

Internationally acclaimed British artist Andy Goldworthy

Internationally acclaimed British artist Andy Goldworthy, right, discusses with Alan Harshbarger and Steve Bayer of Bayer Stone the limestone mined from Cottonwood Quarry that Goldsworthy will use to create a stone arch for WSU. Below, a lone elm tree, whose shape is a perfect arch, grows on the quarry site east of Strong City, Kan.

Photos by Mark Janzen, Ulrich Museum

The finished arch, held by gravity alone and weighing in at 20-30 tons, will rise from the earth and reach across its space by approximately 11 feet by 22 feet.

Goldsworthy fell for the location, his choice, for several reasons. It's both an entrance and an exit with traffic and people constantly passing through, or passing by completely on the 17th Street thoroughfare. He likes the nearby presence of the oldest buildings on campus, Henrion Hall and Fiske Hall. The surrounding trees are among the first planted on the original campus.

"Trees are a strong presence there," said Goldsworthy. "And the passing by of traffic, of people, passing by the campus all indicate movement, passage, journey good concepts for a university campus."

He had initially planned to erect the arch through an existing tree, but instead a new tree of ancient lineage will be planted underneath the arch.

"A tree draws the space in which it sits," said Goldsworthy. "What's the most permanent the tree passing through the arch or the arch passing through the tree?"

Of course, the arch will outlast its tree, but, he said, "a tree will mark time."

Goldsworthy's visit to WSU came a day after a serious stone-shopping spree at the Cottonwood Quarry east of Strong City in the vast spaces of Chase County. Owned by Bayer Stone, a third-generation quarry and fabrication business in St. Marys, the quarry rises like a sudden small Stonehenge or, as David Butler, director of the Ulrich, described it later, "thousands of pieces of limestone in this endless prairie."

Endless but for one lone elm tree, planted near the quarry long ago. The natural shape of its leafy reach? A perfect arch.

"Andy loved the landscape where the quarry sits, and the whole experience of seeing where the stone was born," said Butler. The stone is being worked at the St. Marys plant to Goldsworthy's specifications.

Meanwhile, carpenters for the WSU Physical Plant are building the wooden frame for the arch to be built upon. After the stone is delivered by Oct. 21, the building of the arch will take place over a few days with Goldsworthy's assistants working closely with the Physical Plant staff.

Butler calls Goldsworthy "an authentic international art celebrity" almost a rock star in the way he's in demand. He's a pleasure to work with, said Butler, and his relationship with the arch project is impressive.

"For him the arch is a living thing, leaping out of the ground," said Butler. "It's simultaneously playful and imposing."

Goldsworthy has been producing work since the mid-1970s, using the natural elements of each location he visits twigs, leaves, stones, snow and ice, reeds and thorns to create fleeting beauty with a sense of play and of place. He records his works with photographs, which are then published in book form to showcase the pieces' production. Much of his work addresses issues of growth and decay, seasonal cycles, and the idea that an artwork too has a natural life that eventually must end.

Most of Goldsworthy's work has been made in open air, in places as diverse as the Yorkshire Dales, Grize Fiord in the Northern Territories of Canada, the North Pole, Japan, the Australian Outback, St. Louis, Mo., and Dumfriesshire, Scotland, where he currently lives.

Goldsworthy was born in Cheshire, England and studied at Bradford School of Art and Preston Polytechnic. He has produced commissions for organizations and collections throughout the world: the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh; The Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Abbeystead Estates, Duchess of Westminster, Lancaster, U.K.; and Stanford University, California. He was invited by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to create this year's sculpture exhibition on The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden, known as the most dramatic outdoor space for sculpture in New York City. The exhibition runs through Oct. 31.

The film "Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time" by director Thomas Reidelshiemer has been showing throughout the country. The Ulrich will show the movie later this October, to coincide with the arch's completion.

His permanent sculptures in the United States include "Storm King Wall" at the Storm King Art Center (Mountainville, N.Y.); "Stone River" at Stanford University; "Three Cairns" at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, the Des Moines Art Center and the Neuberger Museum of Art (Purchase, N.Y.); and "Garden of Stones" at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (New York, N.Y.).
WSU is only the second U.S. university to be graced with Goldsworthy's work. It's a huge thing for WSU, said Butler.

"I predict that the corner of 17th and Fairmount will become a pilgrimage site," said Butler. "People will come to Wichita just to see the sculpture."

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