Joseph Wheelwright, 1994 (Dorchester, Massachusetts)
Bronze, Edition of 8, 80 x 19 x 44 1/2 in.
On the field across from Nuria and Irma is the attenuated bronze called Smokejumper by Joseph Wheelwright. Wheelwright explained, “I start by looking for trees with bifurcated trunks. If the hips and the swing of the legs look good, I poke down into the roots to see what the tree is going to give me for shoulders. Sometimes you can follow the root structure all the way out to the fingers.” Having identified a promising specimen, Joseph Wheelwright, fells the top portion of the tree, which will not be part of the figure, and then, using customized equipment, uproots and inverts the remainder. Completing the sculpture involves adapting and adding to the existing growth to form the head and facial features and position the arms and hands.
Wheelwright found that hornbeams, relatively short hardwood trees, are particularly suited to his purposes. “They have fewer roots, but they always send out a few strong shoulders,” he said. Smoke Jumper was created from hornbeam and then bronzed. This is an example of the artist’s second bronzed large-scale tree figure. Wheelwright shared his time between Dorchester, MA and East Cornith, Vermont. His legendary trees have their roots in the artist’s childhood unease. Wheelwright recalled his boyhood walks “from my bus stop on a dark winter afternoon, being a little terrified to look at the trees in case they already noticed me.” He once described his sculptures as “sentient beings that are there communicating with you, if not cavorting.”