Art Inspired by Nature: The Work of Vermont Artist Dan Snow
By Michaela Harlow
As an enthusiastic fan of stone sculpture, environmental art and three-dimensional landscape features, I have been long planning an article about Vermont artist Dan Snow and his work. But finding the time to meet up with Dan and actually visit and photograph the artist’s creation seemed all but impossible. Dan Snow keeps a busy schedule. In addition to creating master works of art for both private clients and public collections, Dan has authored two of his own books – In the Company of Stone and Listening to Stone with photographs by Peter Mauss – and has contributed to several others. He also regularly writes beautiful essays for his blog, In the Company of Stone. In addition to these artistic pursuits, as a Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain (DSWA) certified Mastercraftsman and certified Instructor, Dan Snow leads workshops, talks and presentations – both here in North America and abroad – passing along his drystone walling and artistic knowledge to eager students the world over.
I did finally manage to catch up with the artist recently on a blisteringly-cold December afternoon. Dan offered me the very enviable opportunity to take a local, personally guided tour of his work. Visiting these amazing works of art, and having the opportunity to skip, hop, crawl, walk in, on and around them with their creator, was more fun than I can possibly describe.
While seated inside the tiny stone tent, titled, Archer’s Pavilion, reflecting upon the beautifully framed landscape beyond, it occurred to me how – much like other master works of art – the piece seems both impossibly complex and maddeningly effortless.
Despite the weight of the stone and the hours of intense physical labor involved in their construction, Dan’s creations always appear as if magically dreamed into existence. It’s a wonderful, and completely mind-boggling paradox.
Although Dan is often commissioned to create functional objects – benches, fire pits and bridges among them – the utilitarian purpose of these projects is merely a launch point for this artist’s imaginative interpretation of the structure. A bench is simply a place to sit, but a work of art designed for seating is an entirely different thing. The gravity-defying beauty of Dan’s arched, stone foot-bridge, and the fascinating, flame-mimicking points of his fire sculpture, make it clear that in the hands of a master, art need never play second fiddle to craft.
Not only do Dan’s stone creations blur the culturally designated line between art and craft, but many of his environmental art pieces also challenge conventional, Western ideas about what it means to make a garden. In many of his works, the stone itself becomes a distilled, symbolic landscape – these three-dimensional, highly disciplined works of art become the focus, not the backdrop, of the garden. In Listening to Stone, Dan describes how he came to accept a commission for an Asian-inspired dry garden in Vermont, and an inspirational encounter in Finland with his Japanese friend and former student, Taheshi Hammana. This is one of my favorite essays in the collection; perfectly describing the yin-yang relationship between student and teacher, and how in the best of circumstances, the learning flows both ways. Like many of Snow’s stories, this one reveals an essential part of the multi-layered process of art making, and how individual experiences develop and shape that process, and the artist himself.
Michaela Harlow is an artist, writer and blogger. http://www.michaelaharlow.com/