Artist Statement Stone Clouds
Stone Clouds is a tribute to the sustainable agriculture practiced by generations of Mettawee Valley farmers who've picked tons of stones from their fields, all by hand.
Every year, the plow turns up more stones in Ken Leach’s cornfield. It appears they’ve floated up through the rich Mettawee Valley soil from below the surface when in fact they’ve floated down upon the face of the earth from far above. There were once great clouds of ice between earth and sky. Ken’s stones were tucked into mile-high blankets of frozen water vapor. They’d been plucked from the even taller mountains that used to reign here, and carried in alluvial fans out across glaciers that were thousands of years in the making and thousands of years in the melting. When the land that is now a Vermont Land Trust protected property said goodbye to its last glacier, twelve thousand years ago, all the sediment and rock that was riding its coattails settled to the ground, creating the dark soil that farmers like for growing corn, plus, an unwelcome bounty of stones.
Looking out across a Mettawee Valley field after the corn has been harvested, the ground is littered with softball-sized stones. It’s as though the earth is trying to toss them back up to the clouds that dropped them there. In my mind’s eye they rise up to form their own lofty cirrus clouds, the bright puffy ones that predict a solid stretch of fair weather ahead.
As I became acquainted with the Vermont Land Trust properties in the Mettawee Valley that I was partnered with for the temporary exhibition, I sought out examples of land formation and land use that might be described as “short term”.
Geologically speaking, the times of glaciation over the Mettwee Valley were brief, but they left a strong impression. Fine sediments and small stones trapped in mile-high rivers of ice eventually came to rest on the valley floor, creating a rich soil and a bumper crop of stones. Beginning in the 18th century, farming took hold on the bottomlands and continues to this day. Ken Leach is the seventh generation in his family to farm in the valley. Agricultural methods evolve. The hay barns of yesteryear are replaced with hoop barns, stone walls with electric fence. “Temporary” is built into our “contemporary” lives.
Change is uncomfortable and stimulating at the same time. To try something new in my art making is as exciting as it is uncertain. There is whimsy in the notion of returning the stones of the Mettowee Valley to the sky from where they once fell. My task has been to follow that vision, of loose stones suspended on air, back through my imagination to the beginning of constructing a sculpture. Stone Clouds needed a suspension system. For the required components I looked to hoop barns and fence wire. To shape the collection of stones into clouds, I would need cloud-shaped containers. For that, wire baskets would be woven around styrofoam forms that would subsequently be cut away from the basket’s interiors. Once the clouds were hung from the steel framework, stones could be placed within them.
Stone Clouds is my realization of stones floating on air. The sculpture has a framework of 200’ of 2” steel tubing and 300’ of 12 gauge wire, suspending three cloud-shaped wire baskets. Into them, 50 fourth-graders from Charlotte Elementary School have placed 251 field cobbles collected from a Mettowee Valley corn field. The thousands of prickly wire ties that bind the basket weave together sparkle in the sun. The time-worn, rounded stones are billowy puffs, filling in the cloud outlines. The angular framework and ephemeral clouds work in partnership, structurally by holding each other in tension, and aesthetically by being spatially contrasting counterpoints to one another.
Concept materialization is a step-by-step process. Each component choice informs the next method of realization. Manipulation of materials builds a pool of knowledge that educates procedure. The essence of sculpture making is the holding on to an overarching desire while moving through the physical world.
Stone Clouds is funded, in part, by an award from the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.
All photos copyright Oliver Parini Photography. No usage without permission.