GREENSBORO — Thomas Sayre has become known for monumental sculptures made in and of the earth in North Carolina and beyond.
The Raleigh artist proposes one along the city’s Downtown Greenway.
Sayre showed preliminary plans Tuesday for his public art at 501 Guilford Ave. in the Westerwood neighborhood.
By June 2021, it will stand along the final stretch of the greenway, a 4-mile recreational path that will encircle center city when complete.
Because of North Carolina’s stay-at-home order prompted by the novel coronavirus pandemic, Sayre presented plans for the West Woods project via Zoom videoconferencing.
To create his art, Sayre forms earthcasts from the soil and earth from the ground where his sculptures will eventually stand.
He digs large shapes from the earth with a massive tree spade. Shapes are filled with concrete mixed with iron oxide, along with structural supports. When the concrete cures, it is pulled up from the earth and permanently set in place.
“One of the things that earthcasting does is reveal the place where they are made and how they were made,” Sayre said.
“In the case of Westerwood, all the history in the site will be in evidence in these castings,” he said.
Sayre’s rendering shows three cairns — man-made piles of stones made from earthcasting. Each piece within a cairn weighs about 6,450 pounds. The tallest cairn stands about 21 feet.
Each stone has an opening within it that allows it to slide down a pipe that holds them securely, much like a necklace of pearls.
Sayre drew inspiration from the smokestacks reminiscent of the city’s mills.
The cairns stand along a spiral path and surrounding a raised platform that could be a performance space, or a place to simply hang out and eat lunch.
The path will feature flush stainless-steel cutouts of the small critters in the College Branch stream that meanders through the site.
Action Greensboro, an arm of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, has joined with the city to create the greenway.
The $43 million greenway project, financed with public and private money, is expected to be completed in 2021.
The $400,000 West Woods project will be paid for with $200,000 from the Cemala Foundation, $100,000 from the city of Greensboro’s Water Resources Department and $75,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts. Greenway organizers await another $25,000 in grants.
Sayre’s earthcasting will be located on a site at Guilford Avenue and the railroad tracks that will become part of that section of greenway. It’s owned by Greensboro College and partly occupied by a theater department building.
The sculpture will stand behind the building, between the railroad tracks and the stream. It will be easily seen from West Friendly Avenue.
It was the site of the city’s first bonded warehouse, a customs-controlled warehouse that retained imported goods until the duty was paid.
A fire in the early 1970s destroyed the bulk of it, and the building on site now was rebuilt.
When Sayre dug holes at the site, he hit bricks that had been bulldozed after the fire, as well as shards from white ceramic dinnerware from a manufacturer one located there.
More than 50 people watched Sayre’s presentation through Zoom and Facebook Live.
It was hosted by Dabney Sanders, the greenway project manager, and Barbara Peck, the public art consultant for the project.
Viewers said they liked what they saw. They asked questions and made suggestions.
“Thank you for this very exciting project for Greensboro,” Margaret Benjamin said.
Some greenway supporters wonder whether a spiral path will prompt pedestrians to cut across, Sayre said. So that could change to a meandering path in the final drawing.
“This is a concept that has evolved and continues to evolve,” Sayre said.