Walter Ware’s classroom is a barn west of Denver International Airport. There, in the middle of a field, are his textbooks—hundreds of 15-foot logs.
Each week, Ware, a senior in CU Denver’s College of Arts & Media (CAM), drives to this field for his internship with local artist Patrick Marold. There, he works on Marold’s newest project—a sculptural installation for Denver International Airport’s South Terminal Project. Still a year away from graduating with his Bachelor of Fine Arts in sculpture, Ware is already living every artist’s dream: working on one of Denver’s highest-profile art projects.
“I never imagined I’d have a chance to be a part of something like this,” Ware says. “This is an actual public piece of art—something that people will look at and admire for years. It’s a huge piece, and I’m a part of it.”
This “huge piece” is the perfect opportunity for an eager intern. Not only is this the largest commission for a local artist in the history of the Colorado public art program, this is also the biggest project Marold has ever done. And the team carrying it from vision to completion? It’s only six people. That means everyone, including Ware, is involved in every part of the project’s creation.
When finished in 2016, Marold’s piece, the “Shadow Array,” will sit in a valley south of DIA’s new hotel and Public Transit Center. Consisting of approximately 250 logs, the installation will be 750 feet long and 500 feet wide, about the size of two football fields.
Marold’s design was unanimously chosen by the DIA art committee, standing out from the work of 300 other artists because of its unique use of the solar exposure of the valley. His design manipulates light and shadow, creating a dynamic piece, which, though the logs are static, will change like an enormous moiré pattern as people move through it on the commuter rail. Even the lighting will dim throughout the night, he says, “like a tide going out to sea.”
Marold says the piece is meant to link land and sky, reminding viewers of their pending journey through the clouds while promoting a sense of stillness like a forest would.
“The piece will envelop you,” Marold says. “It will give you a moment of pause, countering the hustle and bustle of the airport. When we travel, it’s easy to take for granted the beauty around us, the beautiful division between the earth and sky that flying penetrates. I hope my piece will draw the eye to that relationship between earth and sky and offer a moment that is slightly sublime.”
Marold and Ware were connected through CAM’s Dean’s Advisory Council, a group of CAM graduates and community leaders who help CU Denver keep a finger on the pulse of the arts community. Assistant Professor Storm Gloor and other CAM faculty asked the council to find internship opportunities for their students, and the council immediately thought of Marold. Marold was happy to have a young artist on his team, and Ware was the perfect man for the job.
Of course, Ware’s work with Marold isn’t a typical internship—there’s no office or human resources department to handle paperwork, there’s just an independent artist and a field of trees. But the Experiential Learning Center (ELC), focused on finding the best learning opportunities for CU Denver students, made the unique internship possible.
“This is exactly what we want for our students,” says Karen Eichel, Ware’s internship advisor at the ELC. “This is real-world experience, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is showing Walter exactly what his future after college can be.”
Marold saw that Ware had a broad skill set, that he had experience with things that even Marold didn’t. Prior to the internship, Ware had been a blacksmith, so Marold immediately assigned him to do what he already was talented at: welding, cutting and fabricating. Ware was able to apply the skills he learned at CU Denver to the project, which, he says, has elevated his blacksmithing work to the level of “art.”
“It’s exciting to see how much I already know, to take what I learned in the classroom and actually create with it,” Walter says. “This may not be a teaching environment like the classroom—the stakes are definitely higher—but the things I’ve learned out here with Patrick have been priceless.”
One thing Ware has learned is the importance of materials for a project. Marold says the trees, Engelmann Spruce from the Rio Grande Forest in southern Colorado, are what made his vision possible—no other material would have worked. Plus, all the trees are “beetle kill,” trees whose lives were already ended by pine beetles, so it made sense to preserve their lives with this fabricated forest.
Unlike other artists, Marold is creating almost every part of his project in-house, which means more hands-on experience for Ware. They’re building their own tools to do the job right. They’re hand-crafting unique bases for each individual log. They’re hand-peeling all 250 trees, a job that, even with a crew of six, takes more than a day of work per tree. They’re doing everything possible to make sure the project’s execution is flawless.
From Intern to Artist
Of course, all that creation is hard work. Behind the barn where Ware works sits what he calls “Mount Chipawalla”—a pile of wood chippings 6 feet tall from peeling the trees. Peeling one of the last remaining trees in the group, Ware has to throw his entire body at the tree to peel off the outer layer, pulling his arms back like he’s rowing a boat through sand. After he’s finished peeling, he will still have to carefully cut the log. And, because every tree has to be raised to a different height and angle, he will have to cut it in a different way from any other tree.
In addition to the hard labor, Ware has been helping Marold with practical problem solving, giving input on issues ranging from where holes should be drilled in the logs to how the logs should be angled in the final installation. With Marold’s supervision, Ware does it all.
When visitors come to see how the project is progressing, it is Ware, his apron covered in resin from his work, who introduces them to the art. He can talk and talk about every aspect of the piece, from the wood shavings to the larger vision. It’s clear that he’s more than just a part of a machine—he has a sense of pride and ownership. He may not have designed the piece, but it’s partly his.
Marold says that’s why he wanted to take on an intern, to give a young artist the opportunity to gain from the various experiences he encounters with a project of this scale.
“I hope he learns that anything is possible,” Marold says. “Anything can be done, you just have to figure out how.”
Watching Ware brush the sawdust from a tree almost three times his size, it’s clear that he’s learned that lesson. He says the internship has been one of the best experiences of his life, and one that has forced him to grow as a student and an artist.
When the installation is done and it sits in its final home at DIA, Ware says he’ll be able to point out specifically which logs he peeled, which bases he welded, which pieces he touched. All along the piece, there will be trees that he sees as his, and that, Ware says, is thrilling.