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After pushing through some knee high grass and entering a clearing in the Fresh Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary, a massive three-legged structure comes into sight.
Off in the background there are four shiny stainless steel half circles and massive rusted iron pieces, which are nuclear reactor leftovers. It might seem like a scene from a sci-fi movie, with many creations that appear out of this world scattered around, but this is the property of Edward Tufte, renowned professor and sculptor.
The backyard of his home connects to the Cheshire Land Trust’s property and some of his artwork can be seen from the trails. A developer wanted to build 62 homes on the property a few years back and, with Tufte’s help, neighbors rallied together to put an end to the development.
“The best way to stop the development was by buying the land and giving it to the Land Trust,” Tufte explained. “You can now see some of my work from Fresh Meadows.”
Tufte, who has lived in Cheshire for 22 years, has filled his 25-acre property with various creations, many of which weigh tons and require a crane to move. Standing 32 feet tall and stretching out roughly 70 feet, “Larkin’s Twig” can be viewed from Fresh Meadows, about 300 yards from the entrance off Cook Hill Road. The sculpture is a massive re-creation of a small twig Tufte was given many years ago by a colleague.
Many large, 12-foot-high stainless steel panels come together to form Escaping Flatland, some of which have honeysuckle growing out of them. There are also creations called Millstone, which are made from old pieces of a nuclear power plant. Tufte joked that the pieces “glow at night,” but was serious about his thoughts on his unique profession.
“This is three dimensional artwork that casts shadows and it looks good from everywhere,” Tufte explained, standing by one of his creations. “When the viewer changes their point of view, the artwork changes.”
Tufte crafted his first abstract artwork at six years old with mechanical drafting pens. Around 40 years ago, after he finished his PhD dissertation, he created a painting of balloons floating free in the wind, which he said was “not exactly subtle symbolism.” After that, he shifted towards large-scale work, using stainless steel, rusted steel, and scrap metal to create some pieces that are larger than life.
“Whatever it takes,” he explained. “The passion was lurking all my life, but I got serious as an artist in the last 10 years.”
Tufte has written and self published four books on analytical design and offers courses on his writings. The New York Times referred to him as the “da Vinci of data,” while Business Week called him the “Galileo of graphics.”
With help from Cheshire business owners Sal Rizzo of Salsco and John Hilzinger of Heavy Weight, Inc., Tufte is given a hand constructing these massive creations. In 2004, Tufte purchased approximately 140 acres in Woodbury that was planned for development, but instead is now being used as a farm and sculpture park.
Over the last six months, Tufte and a crew of professionals have been hauling his artwork to Ridgefield for a half-year exhibit at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. From June 12 to January 17, 2010, 15 huge outdoor pieces and 50 indoor pieces, totaling about 80 tons of sculptures, will be on display.
“I’ve had smaller shows in New York and Los Angeles, but this is the first really big show,” Tufte explained. “People usually can only see photos of my work and, now, they are out in the world.”
Perhaps an added benefit to doing the show, Tufte explained, was that, when he was asked to do the exhibit nearly two years ago, the “threat of a deadline” loomed over him and he had probably his “most productive years” in that time frame.
Tufte is a strong proponent of seeing the artwork first, then describing it later.
He explained that if an onlooker were told a creation sold for $1 million, or was created from melted down prison cell bars, or was a complete fake, it might mean different things to that person.
Tufte explained that you have to give art a chance because, once a description is attached to it, “you can’t see anything else but those words.”
“Art is art and everything else is everything else,” Tufte said. “Avoid metaphors, prices, and categories and just look and then look again. See as long as you can without using words.”
More information on Tufte can be found online at www.tufte.com.