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Andy Goldsworthy leaves legacy for his students with woodland sculpture

Internationally acclaimed environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy has a new work tucked away in a quiet corner of Cornell's Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary -- a stone cairn standing sentinel beside a trail. Goldsworthy, assisted by Cornell students, built the cairn of locally quarried stone.

"It's a great location to make it. You kind of get a real feel for a place," the artist said. "It fits in very well conceptually with what I've done at Cornell."

The cairn is a recurring form in Goldsworthy's work; he has created them out of tree branches, ice and stone. But "Sapsucker Cairn" is probably his last -- Goldsworthy feels he has taken the form as far as it can go.

"It may rear its head again," he said, "but it would have to be something that would push the idea in a new direction."

Goldsworthy is well known for building sculptures of all-natural materials -- a curtain of intricately woven branches linked with thorns, a carpet of brilliant yellow leaves and sinuous extensions of a tree's natural roots made of mud and moss. The textures of natural materials seem to fascinate him. He studies how they feel, how they react to wind, rain, sun, human hands -- and time.

"I'm really attracted to the aesthetic of decay in his work and the idea of working with that … and all the tensions that are in that," said Shern Kier '08, who has assisted Goldsworthy on several projects. "It's been one of the most unique experiences I've had at Cornell. I felt like I had the opportunity to be brought into a different world."

Goldsworthy says his work is an ongoing effort to come to grips with impermanence and the relentless force of time. Photographs capture the changing shapes of ephemeral works as they break down and eventually disappear. He also has more materials he wants to try.

"It would be interesting to make something out of maple syrup. There are so many materials I haven't worked with yet, and a lot of materials I haven't worked well with yet," he said.

The cairn project was funded by the Program for Andrew D. White Professors-at-Large, which began in 1965 to bring distinguished scholars to Cornell to interact with students and faculty. Goldsworthy ended his eight-year term in the program with a public lecture April 17 in Kennedy Hall [see related story, Page 3] in which he talked about creating work at Cornell and at various art museums.

Goldsworthy worked in Fall Creek gorge in 1999 and 2000, using brilliant red and golden leaves, now long since gone. At the east end of F.R. Newman Arboretum, four replacement boulders (from his "Garden of Stone" Holocaust memorial) are on indefinite loan from the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.

To find the Sapsucker Woods cairn, follow the Hoyt-Pileated Trail that begins across the road from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology entrance. The cairn sits on the right, a few minutes' walk down the trail.

Pat Leonard is a staff writer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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