In a way the Art Farm is one man’s eccentricity, and I take full responsibility, the blame is mine. However, it is more vividly understood as a complex collaborative effort of many creative, skilled people, just like putting on a play, which I used to do, or running a farm, which I have never tried.
The Art Farm is a collection of objects, some of them rather large, some of them sculptures made from junk found on the property and in the area, or now sometimes brought over by people who have heard about the place. All of them are pieces with a history, things that are thought-provoking, beautiful, weird, or funny.
They are gathered about a handsome century-old barn, near a two-decade-old pond. The land is hilly but has long been farmed for hay and dairy. A hiker coming down the Art Farm Trail (opened last year by Champlain Area Trails or CATS) emerges from the woods to a sweeping panorama of a hidden Adirondack valley, an unencumbered view rolling all the way to Hurricane Mountain twenty miles away.
Or the visitor might enter the property from Sayre Road and first confront a whale-sized silver object on a pedestal that turns in the winds whistling up the valley. This is the first of the objects, made in 2002 from the remains of my neighbor Dave Sayre’s silo dome. Known as the Phoenix of Wadhams, a tribute to the rebirth of farming around here, it is more formally identified as a Rotating Installation of a Minimally Processed Found Object.
Even before the objects started showing up, a lot of work went into the place. My son Noah and I with tractor and chain saw, shovel and nail gun, graded and cleaned and strengthened, and moved tons of composted cow dung and hay. Noah completely rebuilt the small horse barn, and using old windows and doors created a profound contemplative space overlooking the pond. The pond is there on the initiative of Robin Ulmer of BRASS, the Boquet River Association, courtesy of the US Department of Fish and Wildlife, construction by Jim Morse of JMar Construction, Jerry Pulsifer at the backhoe. The conical pile of rocks drifting placidly on the waters of the pond is a Floating Stone Cone, engineered and executed by Schelling McKinley with the help of his son Arne and Richard Prime.
Most of the more elaborate sculptures were done with the help of my friend Ray Matteau a brilliant fabricator, improviser, and marvelous companion. We did Difficult Tube, It SO Happens, Old Boyhood, Chariot, Welcome, The Wild Ride, Indoor Galaxy, Danger and Twistor in a three year juggernaut that included shows of my work in New York and Plattsburgh.
Tom Wright and I do the mowing. “Just you two old men?” Yes indeed. Tom’s eye is responsible for the dramatic paths among the hills and objects. I have to remind him that the place is a farm, not an estate. That is an important distinction for me. The aesthetic of a farm shows the work, where an estate works to hide it.
The seed for the farm was I believe planted by Harold Sayre, Dave’s father, who once farmed six hundred acres here and twenty five years ago welcomed his new neighbors from the city, emerging out of the cedar break between his house and mine announcing that no one had ever decided on which side of the property line the cedars grew but he thought they were mine. He helped me buy my tractor and told me dozens on dozens of stories, opening for me the world that preceded the present. He and his father had an ice business in addition to the farm, and a meat route, an enterprise that ended only with the arrival of Grand Union. When he was farming, the workhorse machine was the McCormick Deering Reaper Binder with which a family could do the work of twenty men. It ruled the fields for a hundred years and only gave way after the war to the combine. An example of this extraordinary machine, as complex and odd looking as any Dadaist invention, is now retired to the farm, gathering moss in slowly changing patterns.
The most recent arrival is the The Memory Tree, a thirty foot tower made from an old culvert, a tube of rolled 1/8th inch thick iron plate with a great gash in it, the edges of which I gilded, erected by Scott Feeley and Sons, well drillers. The gash evokes for me a tear in the fabric of time somewhere deep in space that can never be healed, as sad and humbling as our memories disappearing as we age.
The Art Farm at Crooked Brook Studios
A version of this essay was printed in UnderCurrents, February/March 2016