Garden of Sticks and Stones (continued)
Metrowest Daily News, June 26, 2003

Stone menagerie

Mixing craft and whimsy, Wheelwright's works steal the show for their exuberant creativity.

Resting in the open-air terrace, 10 large heads and three giant tree figures create their own Stonehenge in Lincoln -- reinventing a space reminiscent of sacred mysteries where denizens of the Earth reveal their secrets.

With his chisel and vision, Wheelwright has chipped away at nature's most anonymous objects to create a granite and gneiss menagerie of faces of mythic resonance.

Sculptures with names like "Listening Stone," "Fox Face," "Rockababy Moon" and"Pixie Face," struck Craig Johnson, of Medford, as "unmoving but watchful, somber but not depressing."

"The artist really captures various emotions in stone. It's really nice they're outside in the ground instead of locked inside," he said. "When you walk away from them, you feel changed."

Wheelwright's monumental heads represent a long artistic odyssey as he experimented with several different materials, including bones and dead fish for years before settling on sticks and stones for his personal metier.

After growing up in Pittsfield and Lenox, he attended Yale University to study medicine, later switching to art.

In 1973, Wheelwright and his wife bought land in East Corinth, Vt., where they lived with no phone and limited electricity.

He spent years experimenting with different natural objects, eventually seeking out stones left by the glaciers that had "soul" to be transformed into heads "that radiated a presence and quiet power."

For Wheelwright, "Rocks are the opposite of the tree figures, which stretch theatrically for the sky with wonderful arms and legs, but rarely a head, while stones are pure head, dense and stubborn. They seem to fight their travails with great dignity. Imagine getting hurled out of a volcano, frozen to death and driven from home by a glacier, pounded by the sea, then buried for centuries. I try to give them a new life, make them breathe and lighten up a little."

Made from granite, gneiss, quartzite, and diorite, Wheelwright's heads are anything but anatomically correct.

He's invented his own sense of anatomy in which the faces range from vaguely representational to purely personal hybrids, combining human and animal features.

At first encounter, Wheelwright's stone and wooden figures are a Rorschach test for visitors willing to tease forth whatever archetypal images are slumbering in their subconscious.

They generally lie on their sides, partially buried with carved features that impart a unique personality to each figure.

One of the most prominent figures, "Listening Stone," seems to be rising from the Terrace's gravel floor, a granite head with a nearly human face that seems aged by time and occasional bird droppings.

The expression is doleful as if weary of listening to the woes of suffering humanity submerged neck-deep in quicksand.

Though intrigued by the variously-shaped faces, Darcy Dwyer, an eighth-grader from Winchester, described "Listening Stone" as "sad, depressing."

Wheelwright's "Self-Portrait Stone" invites bemused speculation.

The large mottled stone face rests on the back of his head, peering skywards with misaligned eyes -- deep slits that have caught small deposits of sand.

A boxer's broken nose protrudes beneath a thinker's long forehead. A patch of moss creeps up one side toward an elongated chin that reminded visitor Charles Wilde, of Sudbury, of Jay Leno.

"I guess it's sort of a private joke," he offered. "That can't be what the sculptor really looks like."

Like aliens from a solar system of his own imagination, Wheelwright's heads are never repetitious.

Carved from a large white stone, "Fox Face" stared at visitors with a long slash of a mouth and deep slanted eyes that Evans Brown, of Boston, pronounced "eerie and menacing."

One of the larger heads, "Rock Climber," is in equal parts puzzling and disturbing.

Carved from a brown, rust-mottled stone, a bug-eyed face seems to rear back, his mouth agape in an silent howl.

A climber crawls from that anguished orifice, damp with rainwater and home to a few insects to scale the face, one arm grabbing at a nostril.

Complementing the mythical ambience of the garden of stone figures, Wheelwright's tree figures rise above the terrace in majestic postures.

He makes them from uprooted trees on his own property, inverting them so their root balls become their torsos and arms.

Both angular and organic, they tower above the heads, the offspring of Giacometti and Tolkien, the sort of primeval creatures that fired the imagination of the ancient Druids.

Topped by a tangled crown of branches, the 8-foot tall "Predator Tree" reaches upward with long, wooden fingers splayed against the sky.

"It doesn't look kind to me," observed Pia Finneran, of Acton. "It looks scary and spiteful."

Visitors can see Wheelwright's "Stone Heads and Tree Figures" at the Sculpture Terrace and Sculpture Terrace Gallery through May 16, 2004.

© Copyright 2003 Metrowest Daily News