Sunday, October 19, 2014

Forsyth Fellow Peek's Sculpture at Sweet Briar


Catherine Peek, the winner of the Harry D. Forsyth Fellowship for the Visual Arts is reveling in the sunshine on this fine October day. The Forsyth fellowship was established in 1999 to provide a fully funded two-week residency at VCCA for a Sweet Briar alumna working in painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking or mixed media.
According to the Sweet Briar website: “The fellowship is awarded to an alumna who has demonstrated exceptional ability and commitment in the area of the visual arts. The selected Forsyth Fellow need not have been a studio art major during her time at Sweet Briar, however, she should be seriously pursuing work in the visual arts. Applicants are judged based on achievement or promise of achievement as evaluated by review of work samples, references and resume.”
Catherine’s delight in the weather is more than just personal because, in addition to the fellowship, Catherine also has won the commission, beating out all other competitors, including such notables as Patricia Leighton, to create a sculpture for the exterior of the Mary Helen Cochran Library. The project is underwritten by the Sweet Briar College Friends of Art. Catherine’s been forging ahead, despite the heavy rain, working on the forms in the shelter of Sweet Briar’s stables. But the forms are completed now and enough’s enough. Concrete needs to be poured.
Catherine’s piece, entitled, Uplift, incorporates concrete and living plants to create a land art version of Sweet Briar’s landscape. The work references both the topographical phenomenon of tectonic shifts forming mountains and also it’s a conceptual piece referring to the African–American women’s uplift movement of the 1900s where "the women lifted themselves up, educating themselves so they could educate their children and uplift everyone in their community."
In Uplift “The ground has been lifted up and sliced to reveal this brilliant red earth beneath--it’s that action I hope you see when you look at it. The retaining walls are concrete but they are going to be finished with this really amazing color matched to the red earth on campus. I gave them the brightest sample I could find. The finish looks like fresco, but it chemically bonds to the concrete so it will never go away.”

The concrete has to be fully cured before the finish goes on otherwise it won’t bond properly and the color won't be right. It takes 28 days for concrete to cure. If all goes well, the concrete will be poured on October 21 allowing the finish to be applied on November 19.

Catherine’s four-foot wide concrete ribbons of earth will be planted with creeping jenny (Lysimachia Aurea), a particularly brilliant green plant, that also has a softness to it, inviting interaction. Catherine wanted to create a more intimate relationship with the mountains, which from a distance look sensual, but “you can never really experience that sensuality.” She hopes people will experience it through her piece, lounging or sitting on its undulating contours.
To create Uplift, which measures 80’l x 12’d x 7’h, Catherine, who holds a Masters degree in architecture from Rice University, drew sections of the mountain profiles correlated with the view from the top of the library using a topography map and drafting software. She then printed a full-scale mock-up of the sculpture that the contractors eventually used to cut forms for the concrete.
From Winchester, Virginia, Catherine was also named a winner of the Washington Memorial Ideas Competition in 2011 for her Field of Stars. She considers herself an urban designer straddling that line between art and architecture. Her intention is to evoke the “placeness” of a place, getting a sense of it and then amplifying it in her work. With Uplift’s rolling green silhouette and Virginia red clay interior she has certainly evoked Sweet Briar’s terroir.  

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