Public Art Proposal: Herb Ferris

Herb Ferris is a sculptor who describes his work as “the feeling of a hockey player’s gesture when he scores a goal; a batter celebrating a home run; the raised arms of the referee in football signaling a successful field goal.” He states that some of his work creates an entrance into the landscape, calling your attention to that space. In Japan those structures are called toriis, or gates, marking the entrances to special places. Walking through them becomes a reminder to stop and look. Other work frames the land or water beyond it, holding it visually with a simple shape.

A graduate of Yale University and Indiana University, Herb is a nationally recognized sculptor, with pieces feature in 13 states, DC, and Canada. Here in Vermont, his work can be seen at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, Karme Choling Mediation Center, Mount Ascutney Hospital, and the Path of Life Garden in Windsor.  A recent article about his work said, “His work is predominately based off natural phenomena, using granite and wood. His pieces experiment with weight and balance to convey to the audience a sense of what Ferris calls ‘material-ness’, an appreciation of the components and sum of Vermont’s natural landscape…(it) embodies his own gratitude for land and its beauty.”

The proposal: Herb’s proposal is a sculpture comprised of wood and stone that would be placed in the pond itself. It would rise above the water and would be finished in gold on each end.

Artist’s description:

This sculpture is about a sense of gesture. It is made with wood, stone, and steel. The stone disc seems poised to move, like a wheel going down the slope of the wood, adding to the energy of the shape as it rises at the small end. The curving steel beam reflects the wood’s form and adds to the lift as if holding a dancer in the air.

The wood is Eastern White pine. If you look at the rings at the butt end, they mark an event that bent the tree over. The normal concentric circles stop, and suddenly all the growth rings are spaced wider on one side. That uneven growth forced the tree to curve up toward the light. At the small end, the reverse is true as the tree got back to vertical and had to stop the curve.

I’ve worked with these curves in many iterations over the last twenty years. They are rare to find. Loggers now call me when they come across unusual trees, mostly, white pine, but I’ve also worked with white cedar, hemlock, yellow birch, hop hornbeam, beech, and red oak, even apple.

The bark was taken off with a spud and the cambium layer worked just a bit with a spoke shave. The surface was then sanded and treated with Pennofin, Brazilian Rosewood oil. This spring, I’ll drill many holes in order to insert “Bor-8 Rods,” rods about the size of your finger, made of boron. The holes are capped with dowels. As there is enough moisture to support decay, there is enough to dissolve the boron, which dissipates into the wood, preventing rot.

The end grain at the butt end will be carved by hand, leaving the texture of the chisel marks. That surface will be coated with West System epoxy and then gilded. To gild, a slow drying varnish, called size is put on the epoxy, over a base coat of red sealer sander. When the size is “squeaky tack,” gold leaf is applied. It will be red gold, 23-1/2 karat, pretty much the same that covers the capitol dome in Montpelier. Gold is inert. It will last as long as the substrate is intact. It can be scratched, but this piece will be up to eleven feet high and out of reach. I’ll also do some gilding at the small end.

The stone would most likely come from one of the “bone yards” in Barre where stone sheds store scrap end pieces left when they cannot hold any more of a big block that is being cut into slabs. I will cut the outside circle of the stone with “feathers and wedges.” Holes will be drilled along the outline. The so-called feathers are two pieces of lead that line the hole, while a steel wedge is set between them, and tightened with a hammer blow. When a series of these feathers and wedges is placed in a pattern, the wedges are struck until they make the same tone, called “ringing the stone.” At that point, the work is stopped, sometimes even overnight, as tiny cracks begin to travel from one hold to the next. The wedges are struck again, not hard, adding pressure, and the process is repeated until the stone breaks away. The center hold cannot be made with that method because the pressure would be trapped with nowhere to go until

At that point, the work is stopped, sometimes even overnight, as tiny cracks begin to travel from one hold to the next. The wedges are struck again, not hard, adding pressure, and the process is repeated until the stone breaks away. The center hold cannot be made with that method because the pressure would be trapped with nowhere to go until it broke the whole stone. Instead, I’ll drill a series of 3-inch holes with a diamond core drill and finish carving out the inner circle by hand with a chisel.

The granite ring will sit in a galvanized steel bracket, fastened to the wood. It will be more than eight feet off the ground when the pond is dry, well out of reach of tagging, but I’ll put on a coat of anti-graffiti coating.

The steel will be fabricated by Osgood Welding in Claremont, NH. The curves will be flame cut. The top and bottom will be rolled to the proper shape and the four pieces welded together. A shoe will be welded to the bottom, which can be bolted to 1.25-inch anchor bolts, set in a concrete footing at the bottom of the pond, fifty feet in from the edge of the plaza. That connection will have nuts that can adjust the beam slightly, fine-tuning the connection to the wood at the top. At the top of the beam, the beam will dive into a steel saddle that fits to the wood, with the grain. There will be two bolts going through the wood and the steel. All steel will be galvanized and coated with anti-graffiti material.

Miller Construction, in Windsor, VT, will truck the sculpture to South Burlington and set it with a boom truck. When the pond is empty, during a dry summer, there will be 7.5 feet between the concrete pad and the top of the wood, making it difficult to climb. The pond is expected normally to have a foot of water and at maximum, three feet of water—enough to keep people away.

Different amounts of the steel curve will be visible at the different water levels. I made a full-scale, outdoor mock up ofmock-upulpture, pond, and paths, in order to envision the relationships of size and elevations. The walkways vary from nine feet above the pond bottom at the plaza, to five feet as they circle the site, making them four feet above the most common water level. At that level, the sculpture would rise up ten feet.

This proposed public art installation is one of three proposals under consideration by the Public Art Committee, for installation at the Market Street Pond in City Center Park. In April 2017, the Committee will select one proposal to be implemented.

And, they want your input! Just fill out our feedback form and your comments will be shared with the Public Art Committee.

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