What better time to revisit the South Kingstown Land Trust Sculpture Trail, on the road to the Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge, than these days nipping at spring?
Where Green Hill Beach Road meets up with Matunuck Schoolhouse Road, just inside the South Kingstown line from Charlestown, the jolly bulk of “Sir Loin, Barbecue Bull,” a horned bovine fashioned from a rusty, big-bellied meat smoker, remains a most inviting welcome a few paces inside the opening in the stone wall that borders the roadway.
For the most part, the two-dozen or so sculptures that populate the 3-acre woodsy tract are intact as I remember them from when I first wrote here about the sculpture trail in November 2016. But there have been a few adjustments, enhancements, repairs, repositioning and one or two additions.
That spider’s web, I suppose it might be, strung between limbs and bejeweled with prisms is especially eye-catching. And that stone carving, “Torn,” by Laura Travis, badly damaged by a windstorm a few years back, has been artfully mended.
The sculpture trail, which opened to the public in the fall of 2014, fronts a 22-acre wet and forested tract donated to the South Kingstown Land Trust in 2008. Troy West and Claudia Flynn, each an accomplished sculptor who live nearby in a restored 17th-century farmhouse, approached the land trust with the concept of blending art and nature. They solicited work from sculptors they knew and contributed pieces of their own.
I don’t know enough about the couple to make any seasoned judgment, but West, who is also an architect and an educator, appears to have chosen of path of whimsy as he avails himself of steel, wood, bright color and nature; and Flynn, who in January was awarded best in show at the Mystic Art Museum’s annual juried theme exhibition, appears to have journeyed deeper into the woods.
West’s original installation, “Crocodile Soaring,” a length of wood in the shape of a crocodile’s head and jaws, multicolored and suspended in a lively painted steel cradle, is as I remember it. However, I would suggest, upon leaving the sculpture trail, driving down the Green Hill Beach Road to West’s home — look for the large mailbox on the left — and beholding, even from the driveway, the absolute wonderland of his sculptures, mostly, that play around his property.
One of his towering creations, where a hornet’s nest happened to take up residence, bears the pronouncement: “We can’t deny Mother Nature her place at the table anymore.”
I asked Brad Guarino, a renowned artist with a studio in New London and educator who juried this year’s themed exhibition (“Hommage Á) at the Mystic Art Museum, what appealed to him about Flynn’s entry, which was entitled “Spiritus” and was in homage to her late father, Dr. F. J. Flynn.
Created in 2013, and first shown at Flynn’s one-woman exhibition, “Solemnities,” at the Newport Art Museum in the fall of 2014, it displays an X-ray of her father’s lungs and marble skull in vitrine.
“It’s hard to articulate exactly why I chose that piece,” he wrote in an email. “As juror, I didn’t know the identity of the artist or anything about the artist’s intent … I thought the artist created an appealed sense of mystery and intrigue in the work. It reminded me of a reliquary.
“By placing the X-ray of the lungs below the head-like top of the container, it also suggested a portrait bust. It took me a while to get this read, but I thought it was subtle and clever. It was an unusual piece in terms of its form, and when combined with its unusual somber tome, it stood out from everything else in the show.”
At the sculpture trail, Flynn has replaced her original sculpture, “Fire Dance,” a tidy array of vintage children’s shoe forms, each sprouting a twig and encircling a burnt stump, all within a stone fire pit. Only the fire pit remains.
In its place, a few steps away, Flynn has created what amounts to a tombstone with a slab bearing the chiseled and pensive words: “The woods are alive with the dead of seasons past.”
True to form, these sculptors’ works, inhabiting the woods, are rooted in random expressiveness as well.
Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and was a longtime reporter and columnist. He may be reached at email@example.com.