Vermont Arts Council

Finessing a Balancing Act

Some of Gordon Auchincloss’ sculptures stand perfectly still, but he doesn’t. Gordon is an established public artist with a number of projects in various phases of development. I wanted to visit his studio. As we arranged that by email I got this message: “I’m traveling this week.” I found out later that meant, “I am installing a kinetic sculpture in in Washington, DC. I’ve had some surprises with the construction process and — as with all my projects — I’m a little tense in the moments before it is installed.” Even later I found out the sculpture went together beautifully and had the client advocating for more Auchincloss in DC! Following his trip to Washington, then a brief camping expedition/birthday celebration on the weekend, Gordon and I found time to meet. I was able to visit the studio and view sculptures in process; they are being built for the State Office Complex in Waterbury. I also learned more about the way he works and about his passion for public art.

Gordon’s studio is next to his farmhouse just outside of Hardwick. The view is amazing. It’s easy to see how the demands of his farmland and barn across the road serve up continual demands. Clearly, his home life must keep him hopping with chores, yet he manages to weave a balance of work, life, and family into something he calls a “happy lifestyle full of creativity.”

hubs on tableThe new pieces are kinetic sculptures. All three will be sited in the central courtyard of the new facility; his work will complement Sarah-Lee Terrat’s mural inside the building. The art is kinetic and colorful. I saw long stainless steel rods balanced on sawhorses, a table full of precision stainless steel hubs, and another bench piled high with acrylic rectangles in rainbow colors. Inside the next few weeks, these materials will be combined to create a permanent, uplifting artwork for the state.  This project is the second of his funded by the Art in State Buildings program. From his proposal: “I designed the courtyard art to be a reflection of the power of individuals working together to achieve a common goal; the results are powerful and visually uplifting.  …there is an array of three colorful kinetic sculptures… each has a distinct form yet it is clear they are a united, related group that work together to achieve a harmonious result.”

The Work in Art

Gordon has been working as a public artist for fifteen years and has been awarded many significant commissions across the country. His works include both freestanding sculpture and suspended atrium art, both of which often include kinetic elements. Several are in Vermont, but Auchincloss’ designs may be found in Pennsylvania, California, Ohio, Texas, Illinois, Kentucky, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico.  His most recent commission was for a kinetic sculpture installed at a middle school in Washington DC. Locally, his art can be seen in Woodstock in front of the elementary school, and in Bennington at the District Court building.

hands and acrylic rectangles

Auchincloss’ day, night, and weekend job is designing and fabricating public art.  This requires creativity in time management. As he explained: “When you work from home, you have to keep home running as smoothly as work. It becomes an all-encompassing effort—create space to build in, design projects, present for projects, build projects, and travel to installations. It is a very big job requiring significant dedication. Not just from me, but also from my family.” Another aspect of this work is the necessity of finding and responding to RFQs and RFPs, and putting together professional presentations for a proposed art commission. When we touch on this topic, Gordon breathes a long exhalation and his eyebrows raise. He says: “You know that adage about an artist making art 10 percent of time, and running the business the other 90?” This is a reality for many artists but Gordon has an advantage with this aspect of managing his career; for five years he has worked with a specialized artist agent who takes care of the day to day administrative tasks. His agent, Stacey Lindell, has also worked in the public art realm for fifteen years with a focus on large-scale, public sculpture. She has eased the administrative burden for Gordon, freeing him up to focus on the “artistry of art making.”

The Calder Influence

Gordon grew up in Connecticut, near enough to the famous home of Alexander Calder to pass by it often. He did not have plans to become an artist then, but had wonder, curiosity, and admiration for Calder’s art. Through fate and a bit of luck, Gordon once found himself at Calder’s house, as a guest of the caretaker, when a storm blew in. Iced in, they stayed the night at a cottage on the property. Gordon’s eyes still light up when he describes being trapped on the property with the opportunity to explore at leisure the environs that inspired this revolutionary artist. The memory is still fresh. He described his feelings of awe when he stepped inside the studio, the library, and the sanctuary of a great designer. “It was like being in Monet’s garden.”

It was just after studying engineering and business in college in the 90s when Gordon found himself on a porch in Montana with a spool of wire and some pliers. Idly, he made shapes with the wire. Then, he says, he “began to play with and refine them.” The small sculptures resonated with Auchincloss and kindled memories of his magical Calder moment; to this day many viewers find parallels in their work. Auchincloss realized he was creating art that people really sought, he was creating objects of visual interest that he could sell. Months later, while teaching at Shelburne Farm in Vermont, he was approached about the possibility of making a mobile for Stratton Mountain. He said, “yes.” He was thinking: “Are you kidding? I’m working in a blacksmith shop. This is perfect!” From that initial commission, Gordon has steadily pursued innovations in his craft to achieve uplifting and inviting art features.

What’s Next?

The sculptures in Waterbury are scheduled to be installed at the end of September. Days ago, Gordon was notified he was chosen to create and install sculptures in Morristown for the Sculptural Trees Project funded through the Council’s Animating Infrastructure program. And, ever moving, he now has another table full of maquettes, envisioning the next steps for his newest designs.

Gordon in his studioGordon in his studio  |  visit Gordon’s website  |  post by Susan McDowell