Colors of the sea

Artist, volunteers install Chapel Hill sculpture
May. 02, 2014 @ 05:49 PM

Sculptor Tom Grubb, with a team of extra hands, put up the framework and began building “Chapel Hill Voyager,” a 60-foot-high sculpture of bamboo and rope, outside the Chapel Hill Public Library Friday. Beginning today, visitors to the library will be able to see the completed structure, which resembles a sail.

Grubb led the installation of two tall bamboo poles lashed together with rope. His assistants helped lift the boom into a hole, into which dirt and concrete were poured to secure the structure. “The key is to ease it up and start lifting,” Grubb told his crew of volunteers. He said the process might get tricky with the bamboo at a 45-degree angle, but the installation went without a glitch.

Grubb and team then attached a cross piece, and Grubb began the painstaking task of weaving a number of long ropes -- blue, yellow and red -- around the bamboo frame to create the sail-like structure.

“What’s fun about it is the wind moves the ropes and the primary colors start to blend into secondary colors,” said Jeff York, the town of Chapel Hill’s public and cultural arts administrator. The sculpture is the first of 12 temporary works that will be installed in parks, at the post office and other public spaces between July and August as part of the town’s Sculpture Visions Program, York said. Most sculptures will be smaller than Grubb’s piece and will not require as many volunteers. Grubb, who has installed more than 300 such site-specific sculptures since 1980, has the process “down to a pretty good science,” York said.

York saw Grubb’s work at the Cary Sculpture Exhibition in 2012, was impressed with it,  and worked with Chapel Hill Library Director Susan Brown and Grubb to commission the work for the town.

Brown, who rounded up extra volunteers from the library Friday, said she wants to bring Grubb back to talk about his art, and to teach sea knots like the ones he used in the sculpture to young people. “And it’s going to be a great piece to see from the meeting rooms,” she said of the sculpture.

Like other pieces in the Sculpture Visions Program, Grubb’s work will remain on view for a year. Other sculptures will be announced later.  

Grubb, a Washington, N.C.-based artist, has been a teacher, art museum director and commercial sea captain. His experiences at sea influenced his decision to become an artist, and he enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts program at East Carolina University’s School of Art, where he graduated in 1983.

He creates abstract star charts using bamboo, string, wax and ink to create “mixed media collage constructions,” he states on his Website. “In my sculptures and star charts I combine elements found in physics, astronomy, navigation and sacred geometry to create my works of art,” he writes in his online artist’s statement. “I believe that the arts and sciences are closely connected to the health of the human spirit.”

Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil was helping at the installation. He met Grubb when he was Fayetteville city manager, when Grubb was director of the Fayetteville Museum of Art. Stancil said he worked with Grubb on several sculptures in Fayetteville, including one at a major downtown intersection and at the airport.

Other Grubb sculptures that have been installed and viewed in public spaces include “Sandhills Voyager,” in Pinehurst; “Morning Star,” in New Bern; and “Celestial Grid,”  in Pinehurst.