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A Barrier In The Woods

There are several paths through Adkins Arboretum and its environs. After passing an open meadow, one enters the woods with a meandering stream, ferns and native plants growing in profusion. Birds sing marking territory and seeking attention from the opposite sex. Crossing the first foot bridge a new path branches off into another loop. Here and there old groupings of vines and dead fall branches mark sculptures from previous exhibits that are in various stages of decay. I've been invited to participate in a new exhibit with five artists installing sculptures along the paths. I take photos of spots along the paths that are still available and appear promising to me. Mary and Howard McCoy, artists, volunteers overseeing the exhibit, are very helpful and gracious giving me the tour and answering my questions. Several of their previous installations are still visible on our walk.

Back home that evening, ideas start solidifying with one particular site in mind. Two trees stand close on either side of the path, near the intersection of two paths where a bench sits, and a view down one path crosses a foot bridge. This seems like a perfect site for a full scale installation based on a smaller piece I made during the pandemic called "Isolation With A View." I envision a barrier wall between the two trees, extending out to the sides so as to block the view down the path. Human nature is such that we don't much like barriers and have a strong desire to see what is on the other side. There will be a U shaped tunnel through it that will allow one to pass through to the other side. The view down the path will be revealed on coming out the opposite side, giving this installation its name: "Revelator."

I convert a photo of the site into grayscale and with Paint software I use the eraser function to draw my installation roughly on the image. This leaves the design blank or white which I can print on paper and ink over by hand. By creating a pen and ink image over the photo of the site and an arial view drawing with anexplanation, I have my proposal to submit.

Though there are initial safety concerns, the tunnel will be wheel chair accessible and there are multiple paths that access either side of the barrier, if someone needs medical help. Once these issues are reviewed, my project gets the go-ahead. The McCoy's own a farm close by and are having willows cut down for the restoration of a dam on the property. They offer all I can use and the help of one of their farm hands to collect and transport the willows to my site. I meet the McCoy's on April 24 on their farm and meet Doug, who has been cutting the willows and has a truck and horse trailer backed up to the area. Doug and I spend several hours collecting willows. He has a small chain saw and cuts them into ten foot lengths which we then load onto the trailer.

Once the trailer is full, Doug drives us to Adkins Arboretum where the McCoy's lead us down the path to the installation site. Driving across a narrow bridge, making a sharp turn and backing down the path to the site is an impressive feat. At this point, unloading and stacking the wood on either side of the path seems to be the easy part.

Howard and Mary give us a hand unloading and attaching a sign letting people know this material is for an installation on the site. Once the load is in place Howard, Doug and Mary take a well deserved rest on the bench next to the installation site.

On May thirteen through the fifteenth I go back to actually build the installation. This is the fun part of all the work. Saturday starts out dry, so I get most of the structure built, using binding wire to tie poles together since it needs to last through the end of September. By three it starts raining lightly, but the tree canopy and my raincoat allow me to continue working. As five o'clock rolls around the rain has picked up and I am drenched from the waist down. With the basic structure in place, it is time for a shower,some dry clothes, and a hot meal. I have no trouble sleeping at the B&B in Denton.

Sunday brings plenty of sunshine, the light filters through the new leaves dappling the ground and the birds find plenty to sing about. Today, I tie horizontal pieces to the verticals and start weaving in saplings to create wattle and density in the walls. To increase the barrier, I extend the wall to the sides, blocking more of the view ahead and making it impassable. The path that intersects with the one I'm building on allows one to see through the woods to the path ahead of the barrier, so I create a longer wall that curves and obstructs the view from that path. Most of the wattle is concentrated on the center wall of the tunnel, making that a formidable obstruction. Having used up all my long poles, the smaller branches become filler and cover for the roof, filtering light from above. By late afternoon, I've used all the wood brought to the sight and scavenge around the site for more filler. Once satisfied with the wattle, I start stapling burlap to the inside of the walls of the tunnel. I soon realize I will need more rolls of burlap to complete the coverage. I'm stumbling tired, so Monday I'll finish the work.

Monday morning the search is on for burlap rolls used in gardening. After several stops, I'm set and am able to finish stapling burlap to line the tunnel. This increases the opacity of the barrier, while allowing one inside to see out, as through a screen. Burlap has a wonderful earthy aroma that permeates the tunnel. Unfortunately this will not last as it ages. By around one PM I have finished lining the tunnel, rake the path and am ready to go home.

The exhibit opens on June first, with five installations by different artists and June third there is a reception from two to five with a guided tour of the art work by the artists. I hope you will come, your presence is always appreciated. The arboretum is worth a visit for its paths and beauty. It is about one and a half hours from the DC area. Google Maps makes directions easy.

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© 2020 by Marcos Smyth

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