Made to Fit: Artist Leslie Fry Relating Sculpture to Landscape

Art Shape Mammoth
Jan 15, 2019 2:54PM

All artists are sensitive to space – sculptors even more so because the perception of their three-dimensional creations change within different environments. Leslie Fry attributes her sensitivity to spaces from growing up in Vermont. As she puts it, “Living in a rural state has imbued in me a sense of resourcefulness and resiliency in the sense that everything is made a bit harder by being outside a metropolitan city. But living in Vermont—spending time in the woods and being surrounded by mountains had a major impact on my work. It wasn’t until I moved away from Vermont did I realize that the landscape functions much as art does. The state has incredible visual range—from deep valleys to rolling mountains—which are all terrifically sculptural. The extreme seasonal changes in Vermont—from the lush, verdant months of summer to the vibrant displays of autumn to the stripped-down landscape of winter to the slow reawakening of growth – are constant reminders of the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.”

Perhaps no single work epitomizes Fry’s ability to design for a specific place than Pomerleau Park in South Burlington, Vermont, which was created in 1999. Situated in the middle of a heavily trafficked commercial area, the park is encircled by cast-concrete sphinx-like sculptures on columns, as well as a low seating wall with smaller sphinxes, inviting the visitor to touch them. The park functions as a sanctuary from the drone of cars, with a bus shelter, while the columns with their sphinxes rise above. “I think Pomerleau Park is still one of my most significant projects,” says Fry. “It synthesizes the best aspect of sculpture: engaging people with all of their senses. You can sit with one of the sculptures and put your arm around it.” The park’s sculptures change over the course of the seasons; covered in ivy during the green months of spring and summer, the sphinxes almost disappear from sight; in autumn, the vines die and turn red, and reveal more of the sculptures; in winter, the sculptures stand out against the grey winter sky.

Over the years, Fry has been commissioned to create permanent sculptures, including Colossal AcornHead at Tufts University in Boston; Mountainhead in South Korea’s Songchu Art Valley International Sculpture Park; Nestbuilder in Tampa; wall sculptures for four libraries in Fort Lauderdale; Mermaid House in Burlington; and most recently eight sculptures for the Freehand Hotel’s mezzanine near NYC’s Gramercy Park. She describes her art as the intersection of the natural world and the human-made world. This is seen most particularly in her public project, Wild Life: six sculpture installations integrated into a nature trail in Seminole, FL. The imagery and placement of the sculptures were intended to intensify awareness of human impact on the natural environment.

Fry is anything but a conventional sculptor. She draws, prints, models, and casts by combining organic materials such as plants, paper, clay, and fabric with plaster, concrete, metal, and resin. Recent works on paper have taken on new lives as animations. Like the artist’s home state, her work embodies a sense of resiliency: “My sculptures are meant to be touched, and have to be able to withstand the elements including harsh Vermont winters and hot Florida summers. My public commissions have been a response to architecture, history, and landscape within a given site. Ideas come from my studies of scale, materials, accessibility, environmental integration, and the public’s interactions with sculpture in gardens, parks, and plazas.”

Alexandra Israel

Leslie Fry. Building Stories. 2018. Cast plaster and bronze. Variable dimensions. Kent Museum, Calais, Vermont.

Leslie Fry. Colossal AcornHead. 2014. Bronze. 30” x 60” x 30” Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts. Colossal AcornHead is longing to be a real acorn – to be released from its state of artistic abstraction and to return to nature. The sculpture is also about human consciousness rooted in nature – that our “heads” and the earth are inseparable and symbiotic.

Leslie Fry. Freehand. 2018. Reinforced plaster with ink, steel. 52” x 17” x 10” Freehand Hotel, NYC, Freehand/Bard Art Commission. One of eight sculptures created for the mezzanine architectural niches of Freehand New York, formerly the George Washington Hotel, built in 1929 at 23 Lexington Avenue. The series melds NYC architecture, body, and plant forms.

Leslie Fry. Pining. 2007. Painted plaster, pine cones. 7’ x 2’ x 2’ Wild Life was commissioned by Pinellas County Cultural Affairs. Pining is one of six sculpture installations were integrated into a nature trail at Boca Ciega Millennium Park in Seminole, Florida. The imagery and placement of the sculptures were designed to intensify awareness about the effects of human impact on the natural environment.

Leslie Fry. Pomerleau Neighborhood Park. 1999. Concrete. 10’ x 60’ x 60’ Burlington, Vermont. I collaborated with architect Steven Schenker to create a circular park with twenty cast-concrete sphinx-like sculptures. The park’s circle becomes an oasis located in the midst of a commercial area with heavy traffic. The design solution wed sculpture and space to form a sanctuary combining landscaping, sitting areas, a bus stop shelter, and guardian sphinx figures. Mine is a contemporary interpretation of the sphinx that revives a historical symbol in a new light. Vines are growing on the columns, and the atmosphere, trees, and plantings change each season. The nine sculptures atop the columns provide a “drive-by vision” from the road. Visitors have a more intimate experience sitting next to smaller sculptures on the wall.

Art Shape Mammoth