{ Category Archives: flora and fauna }

Scuppernong Commons

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Wowhaus were Artplace Environmenal Artists-in-Residence at the McColl Center for Art and Innovation in Charlotte, North Carolina in late winter of 2015. While in residence we realized an ambitious public project called Scuppernong Commons. The project is sited within Brightwalk, a mixed-income, mixed-use residential development that is a model of sustainable revitalization and economic development for the City.

Part architectural intervention, part social sculpture, Scuppernong Commons reintroduces the scuppernong grape to the urban fabric, and invites new traditions around the grape’s harvest, preparation and stewardship. Native to the Southeast, the scuppernong has been in cultivation since the 16th century and has been a common staple in homemade jams and jellies, juices, pies and wine.

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Scuppernong Commons consists of a walk-through arbor with overhead trellis, and poured concrete hardscape to support seasonal celebrations. In anticipation of a craft-based, community-engaged fabrication process, we designed a structural system that features a single repeating element, while allowing for randomness and variability. Twelve columns support the trellis and make an artificial allée. Each column is composed of 14 dry-stacked, pigmented concrete rings that were hand-packed with the help of volunteers from the community. The rust-red tone and claylike texture of the stacked columns evokes the region’s red clay soils.

As Charlotte continues to grow and prosper as a major hub of the New South, Scuppernong Commons is intended as a durable, loving tribute to the City’s humble origins, emblemized by the versatility and resiliency of its native fruit.

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Makkeweks, Ifukube, and the Return of the Ray

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I’ve flipped the creature and continue to rough out its topsides with my homemade saw

Carving is like controlled erosion. A shape emerges in response to the real and imagined forces that dictate how and where material is added and removed. My primary job as I sculpt the Makkeweks sea monster is to manage these forces, which, along with the sea monster itself, are largely my invention. My primary tools are various hand saws and abrasives, some of which I have designed and made specifically for carving and cutting compressed cork.

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Akira Ifukube, 1914-2006, composer of Godzilla soundtracks

Another essential tool is maintaining the appropriate state of mind to keep focus on the monster. I manage this two ways, one is cultural and the other natural. I have immersed myself in monster culture and listen to music composed by Akira Ifukube for the Godzilla movies between 1954-1975 while I carve. The son of a Shinto priest, Ifukube was originally trained in forestry and specialized in researching the elasticity of wood. His career in music followed exposure to radiation that left him physically incapable of the rigors of fieldwork. Somehow I can hear his experience with wood in his music. I feel a deep kinship with Ifukube, which I attribute to the love we must share for wood, music and monsters.

I also find inspiration in studying natural forms during our daily walks on the beach. It’s always thrilling to see pelicans dive, sea lions frolick in the surf, and the occasional breaching whale. I want the Makkeweks sculpture to convey the raw thrill of such encounters in the wild. The Makkeweks monster is a composite of native marine fauna, so I learn something new every day. I was recently extremely encouraged to hear of a bat ray sighting in Lake Merritt. I had anticipated this before the Lake was restored to a tidal estuary, and the possibility informed our conception of Makkeweks, whose name originates with an Ohlone sea monster myth.

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To learn more about the development of Wowhaus’ Makkeweks Project, click here.

 

 

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Sea Monsters on my mind

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The depiction of sea monsters is as old as seafaring. Only the shape, size and imagined intention of the monster changes over time, generally in direct relation to what is being explored and whatever constitutes the boundaries of current knowledge. Sea monsters represent the unknown, simultaneously warding off and goading the curious-minded. Historically, sea monsters have been drawn on nautical charts to demarcate unknown waters; perhaps their origin is in some primordial fear of the unknown in any guise.

I think of sea monsters more as composites of observable, unexplained phenomena, drawing on encounters with charismatic mega-fauna of the sea and filtered through the compromised mental state of the ailing seafarer fighting scurvy, malnutrition and general ennui. Sea monsters invariably have traits of creatures that eventually find their way to scientific taxonomy, creatures that are simply unknown to science prior to their status as observable phenomena, as monsters of the sea. Whales, dolphins, seals and octopi all originated as monsters in the human imagination. It must have sometimes taken centuries of rare encounters to make for a complete picture. Even so, the fear persists, the sea monster persists in the imagination beyond reason, and there will always be an unknown.

I like to think of sea monsters as a kind of muse to scientific inquiry, or to inquiry in general, an idea that has guided my vision for the Makkaweks sculpture I’m preparing to carve, to be cast in bronze and permanently sited on the shore of Oakland’s Lake Merritt. I’ve been laying up laminations of large chunks of composite cork, which I will shape into the monster and detail with surface patterns evoking a plausible sea creature. As I block out the rough shape in cork, using my clay model as a template, I’ve been researching depictions of sea monsters from art history and popular culture.

I’m interested in sculpting a contemporary sea monster, an allegory of whatever is currently unknown, or considered inplausible. I’ve been researching ancient literature, classical and renaissance sculpture, natural history, Japanese sci-fi, and garden follies in Los Angeles for visual clues about patterns that define ‘sea monster’ before I begin carving. I’d love to hear from anyone who has sea monster references to add to the archive.

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I found these 2 sea monsters on the grounds of Huntinfton Library in LA. 

Click here to read more about the development of Makkeweks for the City of Oakland.

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Highlights of the Season

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Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans)

– Echium is in bloom (see above).

– Road trip to Santa Barbara. Transmodern highlight: Hanging out in a beach house with the Norwegians, cooking Indian food while listening to hill-billy trip hop.

– Meeting film historian Jan Anders Diesen and getting a private lecture and screening of never-before-seen footage from every major polar expedition, including Byrd, Amundsen, Shackleton, etc.

– Delivering my new line of furniture to Healdsburg Shed.

Wowhaus wins a new public art commission for the City of Cincinnati.

– Visit from my younger brother and his family (pending, arriving today).

– Aili is offered an Academic Honors Scholarship to Occidental College.

– Bodysurfing the point break off of Leadbetter Beach in Santa Barbara.

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Bull Kelp Harvest

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Each winter since we’ve lived on the Sonoma Coast and made a daily practice of walking the beaches, I become mildly obsessed with the bull kelp that washes ashore in great heaps after storms. I’ve tried weaving the kelp into seat blanks, drying it as an iodine-rich jerky, and brewing it for a savory stock. My experiments have not been utter failures, and the waste product makes for nutritious compost, but I have yet to find its ideal use.

This year, I harvested several large heads of the kelp, selecting the freshest and most well-formed. I’m considering casting these in bronze as a table leg for a new design commission, and have carefully cleaned and wrapped them for freezing until I’m ready to make the molds.

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Milling the Black Acacia

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I took advantage of a break in the storms to mill two black acacia logs with my friend Shawn Gavin. One of the logs had unusually wide sapwood and neither had many branches, so we boule cut them both at 5/4″, leaving live edges. The logs were still pretty green but had been sitting for long enough to loosen the bark, most of which peeled off easily as we rolled the logs into position on the mill.

I’ll sticker the stock under the weight of a giant sycamore slab for Shed, as the latest incarnation of my Demonstration Table. We recently harvested the pecan we had drying under the slab to make tabletops and serving boards for the Shed cafe, and I’m excited to load up a new batch of green wood before Shed opens to the public in early 2013.

We’ll have a year to decide how best to use the black acacia with the wide sap as it slowly cures. A relative of koa, the wood is prized for furniture and instrument making, and is believed to be the wood Noah used to build his ark. It’s Latin name, Acacia Melanoxylon, apparently translates roughly to ‘bad actor’, a reference to the tree’s behavior in the forest as opposed to the character of its wood.

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Squalls of Fall

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November morning over Bodega Bay

The first squalls of fall spiral ashore in waves from the open ocean, lending drama to the sky and purpose to our stores of dry wood and kindling. The whales have begun their migration past Bodega Head. American Coot bob in tight clusters like black shadows in the surf while the solitary Western Grebe dives and darts for fish just beyond. Hillside meadows are greening, apples all but gone from bare mossy branches, the few remaining having been sliced and dried and stored in glass jars for winter snacking. The sun drops behind a veil of dense downslope redwood by 3, the temperature drops and thoughts turn to winding down for the day, lighting fires and taking stock for next morning’s chores. Projects follow the rhythm of daylight and we move with more urgency and intensity in sync with the low arc of the sun, rewarding ourselves with long and languid nights of rest and rejuvenation.

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