{ Category Archives: aesthetics }

Update from Swell Break: Deep Craft on the Edge


Rodeo Beach, viewed from the trail from Headlands Center for the Arts

Located on a barren bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the Marin Headlands, the Headlands Center for the Arts (HCA) feels remote, like the edge of civilization, despite its close proximity to San Francisco. Founded in the early 1980’s, HCA occupies a series of decommissioned military buildings predating WW1, originally part of Fort Baker, with the bulk of activities clustered in two identical structures originally intended to house infantry.

One of the more compelling consequences of siting military facilities along remote coastline is that they ultimately serve to protect that stretch of coast from commercial development. Upon its eventual resusitation after closing as a military base in 1950, the Headlands has emerged as a major cultural and natural treasure, a beloved destination for surrounding urban communities seeking solace, recreation and inspiration. I designed my recent workshop at Headlands, Swell Break: Deep Craft on the Edge, to tap this desire for natural/cultural engagement by positing the potential for a former military base sited in close proximity to a major surf break to be repurposed as a research lab for the design and testing of surf craft tailored to a specific break.

The Swell Break project proved to be a huge success despite the inherent challenges of scope and time. Over the course of a Labor Day Weekend, in collaboration with my friend, sculptor/surfer Lawrence Labianca, we mentored 12 workshop participants in the design, prototyping and testing of a series of simple wooden bellyboards, designed to negotiate the break at Rodeo Beach. The project has been both a follow-up and distillation of my ongoing pursuit of collaborative, artisan-scale making informed by the unique characteristics of a bioregion, particularly when it engages boat-building, skate or surf culture.

Click here to see complete photo documentation by Hans Kwiotek.

Related projects include: Micro-Expedition, Deep Craft Atelier

Click here to read more about Swell Break: Deep Craft on the Edge.

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Research Topics du Jour


spinnradl2well's inclinometer


One of the challenges and pleasures of developing site specific, public sculpture is following several threads of research simultaneously and trying to find unexpected connections that make sense. Here is a sampling of some topics we are researching as we design a series of kinetic sculptures for the Pendleton neighborhood of Cincinnati:


1. Polaris

2. Spinnradl

3. Ragtime

4. Radial Moire

5. Peg Leg Joe

6. Appalachian Hymns



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Dedication of the Colorado Judicial Center

denver justice

North Elevation of the new Ralph L Carr Colorado Justicial Center

I spent two days this past week participating in an elaborate dedication ceremony for the new Ralph L Carr Colorado Justicial Center in Denver. Wowhaus was awarded one of the highly competetive public art commissions for the new building, a modernist riff on classical temple architecture featuring a soaring, circular atrium capped with a transparent glass dome. The building was designed by Fentriss Architects, who are probably best know for their now iconic, tensile-tented Denver International Airport.

It wasn’t as easy as you’d think spotting the eight participating artists in an atrium chock full of attorneys, judges, state representatives, clerks, former governors (4) and all of their entourages. Colorado is very proud of its reputation as a renegade state and the majority of its legislative practitioners trend towards Maverick in both style and substance. For every ‘rep’ tie, blue blazer and pair of horn-rimmed glasses there was a goatee, wild mane and bolero. From the many conversations I had over the two days, I found the circuit judges from small rural towns to be the most colorful and candid. One gentleman regaled me with detailed questions about my art practice, then made the bold assertion that what artists and judges have in common is that we are both ‘truth seekers’ by nature.

denver atrium2

A boisterous crowd gathers in the atrium of the new Judicial Center.

I was inspired by the unexpectedly high-minded tenor of the occasion, having given little thought to the life of the building beyond the initial inception for our sculpture that is now knitted into the building’s functional and visual identity. I was equally surprised and delighted by how interested the principle speakers were in the design of the building and integrated artworks, how much they know about every nuance.

Granted, everyone was on their game; the keynote speaker was Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, predeeded by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Colorado Supreme Court Justice Michael Bender, but something about the combined speeches and subsequant conversations rose above mere good form and comportment. Something about the level of enthusiasm for the new building and the artworks it contained, a shared passion for the value of place, beauty and order, convinced me that they really, really meant what they were saying. They truly believed that the Rule of Law is the very pillar of civilization, a sacred if imperfect, hand crafted experiment subject to the vagaries of time, technology and temperment, and that the majesty of the Law, its transparency and logic, could be made manifest in the design and implementation of a building and its contents.


A view of Tsuru, our cast bronze sculpture integrated into the building’s interior courtyard.

Mostly, the occasion gave me insight into the design-consciousness of the legal mindset, and made me proud to have contributed in some concrete way to the contextual backdrop in the ongoing pursuit of the Rule of Law, however obliquely. The occasion restored my faith in the persistance of narrative, especially in an age of the perpetual Now. I hadn’t realized the extent to which symbols, even physical places and guided experiences in the form of art and architecture can actually carry complex and meaningful narratives, let alone the role these narratives can play in everyday life. Perhaps as we lurch into the perpetual present tense required of us as we negotiate digitally-mediated technologies, media and commerce, we will begin to rely more on the substance and integrity of physical place to frame the narrative and remind us of our better selves in the process.



To read more about the development of our Tsuru Project for the Ralph L Carr Colorado Judicial Center, click here and scroll down.


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Notes from the Bonfire


fire notes

fire notes3

fire notes2

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Flotsam of the Day

beach tangle

I love a beach tangle, lines yanked and rolled by the surf, twisted colors at the tideline.

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Of A Wednesday


The week hangs from a Wednesday

dangling a loop

of dropped Saturdays

and Sundays

from an inversely

symmetrical chain

of Tuesdays and Thursdays;

The mid-day clasp of a Wednesday

opposites the dark medallion

of Saturday night.

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Nettoyez les Champs


A bonfire on a chilly grey morning always reminds me of our time in West Africa. There was a common saying among village farmers, on doit nettoyer les champs, clear the fields, which pretty much always meant building a fire. Before the rainy season, entire fields would be burned to recondition the soil for next year’s crops of yam, millet, corn and sorghum. When crops were mature and needed tending, farmers would set out on foot at dawn from the mud huts of the village to collective fields ringing the compound, short-handled, hand-forged hoes hanging deftly from one shoulder.

Au debut, if faut nettoyer les champs. Before working the fields, the farmers would gather loose, dry debris to build a fire, harvesting a few ripe yams in the process. The fire would be built on top of the yams and the farmers would go off to rebuild earthen mounds, redig trenches for irrigation and harvest enough produce to carry back to the village. By mid-day the fire would be down to embers and the hot sun high in the sky. Charred yams would be raked from coals, their blackened crusts expertly removed with a few strokes of a razor sharp coup-coup, and the farmers would gather for a feast of roasted yams with spicy colico before an afternoon nap in the neem grove’s shade.

Our annual winter bonfires may be less prosaic, but they always give me a chance to relive our brief time in West Africa, where I was lucky enough to see the seasonal shift from harvest to rain au village. To contribute less of a carbon footprint, we typically chip or compost most of our green debris, but each year still yields a ‘burn pile’ of apple tree prunings, storm fallen branches and other less expected wood waste, and I always look forward to setting it all on fire, sans yams.

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