Westville artist Gar Waterman is heading back to Dartmouth, his alma mater—where his new work, “Feral Seed,” a nearly 11-foot, commissioned bronze sculpture, has found a home.
Before the creation was to be crated for its trip to Hanover, N.H., Waterman invited the public to a “pre-installation viewing” at his West Rock Avenue Studio, a packed but organized workshop filled with curious tools, artifacts and incredible biomorphic sculptures of wood and stone.
With part of the ceiling cut out to accommodate special rigging needed to support the 350-pound sculpture, friends and visitors were able to get a sense of how the piece will hang in the two story light-filled atrium at Dartmouth’s Life Science Center. Waterman, who attended the college not as an art student, but as a French major, said that relationships with some Dartmouth staff and friends familiar with his work led to the commission.
Waterman’s public sculpture has enjoyed a high profile in New Haven, including the painted-steel Wooster Street Arch, the stainless steel embellishments integrated and imbedded with the architecture at Edgewood School, and the cut-steel Phragmite Fence at the Temple Street Pedestrian Plaza. Images of these local pieces, as well as other public works around Connecticut and in other states, can be seen on the sculptor’s website.
The recent viewing, flowing with celebratory proscecco, was as much a class as it was a reception. Waterman was more docent than party host as he explained the origins and inspiration for the Feral Seed sculpture which is, not surprisingly, grounded in the artist’s lifelong nexus with nature at its most elemental level. His nudibranch sculptures, homages to tiny undersea organisms otherwise known as sea slugs, have long intrigued him, the result of many undersea experiences while growing up the son of oceanographic filmmaker Stan Waterman.
While not his first seed-inspired sculpture, “Feral Seed,” does represent the artist’s first foray into monumental bronze casting. The unwieldy, saber-like structure underwent a series of processes in the studio before it was cast in a New Jersey foundry. Fraught with preparatory casting challenges and much problem-solving, Waterman acknowledged that the project took him out of his materials comfort zone. Working outside of one’s experiential comfort zone, as in Waterman’s case, can be a means to creative revelation and resolution for the artist. Waterman said he learned a lot.
The sculptor’s fascination with seeds was probably piqued in his youth during a year of living on the island of Tahiti. It was a year that inspired an interest in collecting exotic seeds of unusual form. Holding up an otherworldly-appearing “Devil’s Claw” seed during the studio reception, Waterman opined that seeds are, “The quintessential example of form following function.” a well known architectural tenet. The topography of Waterman’s sculpture, both elegantly smooth and prickly, is “symbolic of the fabulous bits of sculptural design you find in real seeds,” he said.
One viewer remarked that the sculpture “looks dangerous,” an observation with which Waterman readily agreed: “That’s by design. Nature is dangerous, and I wanted to convey that in the piece.” For Waterman, seeds represent a wondrous metamorphosis, a transition he describes as “germination moments.” As he addressed the growing crowd of visitors, Waterman’s reverence for “the magic that seeds hold as tiny encapsulations of mystery” was palpable. “You don’t necessarily know what they are going to become until they germinate.” In that regard, mused a reflective Waterman, “Seeds are a lot like the students that will germinate in the fertile soil of Dartmouth College.”
In a bit of science-speak on his studio reception invitation, Waterman described his metaphor-rich work as “a coalescence of some of my favorite sources of inspiration-a somewhat dangerous looking metal mix of hydrodynamic bilateral symmetry with biomorphic arthropodal speciation.”
The sculpture may also embody a kernel of personal redemption for the artist: “I am very pleased to have this piece of my work become part of Dartmouth’s permanent collection of art, and my sincerest hope is that it will make a better impression on the place than I did as an undergrad.”
There will be a dedication of Waterman’s sculpture on Sept.19, at 4:30 p.m. in the Dartmouth Class of ‘78 Life Science Center lobby, where it has been installed.