Wild turkeys cleared the gravel path as I entered the Oxford, North Carolina, property of Alan and Marty Finkel on a cold January day in 2007. The sky was blue—that Carolina blue so typical of the region in winter. I was visiting the Finkels’ garden for the first time; what I thought would be an enjoyable morning visit lasted well past dark.
Marty Finkel is a known plantswoman in our area. I heard about her garden through friends from the JC Raulston Arboretum and I wanted to visit. What I didn’t know when I got there was that on this particular day Thomas Sayre, a man I had admired from afar, was also planning to be there. Sayre, an accomplished artist from Raleigh, was arriving with a crew. They were there to install a sculpture called Duet, which is the prototype for Axes, a sculpture commissioned by the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon.
Duet consist of a pair of oval shaped sculptures measuring approximately 11-feet tall by 6-feet wide and consists of two sides—one side is of concrete roughcast concrete and the opposite side is of sanded and polished cementitious terrazzo. Duet is set on a footing with a three-inch diameter rod that has a bearing system on the top as well as one on the bottom to keep movement smooth and stable, allowing the position of the two sculptures to be changed either with a determined push or a gust of wind at 20 mph or more. According to Sayre, “The two sides [of each pair] reflect light and create shadow in very different ways in relation to the sun, making the piece significantly different visually depending on what surface is facing what direction in relation to the sun.”
There was no fanfare, no press to document the occasion—just the Finkels and me. The morning turned into evening as I spent the day watching Duet being installed. Moving tons of concrete and positioning into place takes time. While I waited between the unloading from the truck, the crane lifting, and installation of Duet, I toured the property—the gardens, the fields where the Finkels raise goats, the water views. But the garden art struck and surprised me. Their acreage wasn’t chock full of garden accents clamoring for attention. Although there were a few nicely placed accent pieces; their garden mostly housed large, magnificent pieces of garden sculpture.
One of the other sculptures in the garden is River Reels, named for the Tar River property boundary and for its reel shape. It was cast on the Finkel property and was Sayre’s first attempt at a full scale earthcasting. He used a backhoe to dig two round trenches that were fitted with steel reinforcing rods and then filled with concrete. After the concrete cured in the earth for a month, a crane birthed the reels by raising them to be installed where they today grace the land as 18-foot diameter frames that offer a changing view of the surrounding landscape with every step. The birthing area is now filled with blue lyme grass (Leymus arenarius ‘Blue Dune’). Alan shares, “As with all site-specific pieces, Thomas [Sayre] wished to appropriately complement the Reels with the birthing site to connect them unmistakably. The locus of the actual molds is marked with a torus of river stones. The grasses beautify and bridge the transition between the hardness of the piece with the natural gentleness of the landscape.” Sayre adds, “Visually, the significance of the grass is to mark the two birthing places of the castings. There is still the original steel pin marking the center of the circles from which the entire project flowed.”
The Finkels have several additional pieces of Sayre’s works, including the prototype for Wapiti, commissioned by the City of Portland, Oregon, called Tree. There was another piece called Pump House and serves as the Finkels’ well cover. Various vessels and smaller pieces, such as a model of River Reels (a personal favorite of mine), serve as accents as well.
As I left the property and the company of new friends, I saw Duet off in the distance illuminated by soft uplighting. I smiled at my good fortune for being there on that particular day.
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The book launch will held at the JC Raulston Arboretum, Thursday, November 1, 2012, 7:30 p.m.