LENOIR, N.C. – It’s time to start turning dirt on a project that will change the landscape of Lenoir and Caldwell County, literally. The Caldwell County Arts Council, with help from various sponsors and local groups, currently is organizing the largest public art project in the history of the community.

The project begins taking shape in the next few weeks, as renowned sculptor Thomas Sayre begins the earth-casting process that will yield a sculpture that honors Caldwell County’s past, present and future.

Titled “Across the Grain,” the landscape-sized sculpture, draws inspiration from the surrounding community and pays homage to the area’s logging, woodworking and furniture-making heritage. But, more importantly, the sculpture honors the community’s strong tradition in the arts, and a bright future ahead.

"Caldwell County is known for its vast public sculpture collection. Adding a significant work to this collection gives added value to the collection and its ability to attract visitors to the community. Adding a work by an artist as renown as Thomas Sayre is a huge accomplishment,” said Lee Carol Giduz, director of the Caldwell Arts Council. “The Sayre project makes sense for Caldwell County. The current collection gives us a context to add this piece. ‘Across the Grain’ will attract people into our community and once here they will see what a special community this is.”

The week of April 9, digging will begin at the site of the former Blackwelder Hospital. A metal skeleton frame will be placed in the dug ground and concrete will be poured into the mold. Following about three weeks of curing, the 26-foot diameter, 40,000-pound earth-cast sculpture will be lifted from the ground using a 90-ton crane.

“We dig around the inside and outside of the cured concrete like a cake knife trying to lift out a cake,” explains Sayre. “Because there is so much friction, we must dig from around the piece in order to lift it.”

The entire process for the sculpture and surrounding park will take three to four months, and at the final unveiling, Lenoir and Caldwell County can lay claim to one of Sayre’s earthcasted sculptures. The official unveiling will be announced by the Caldwell Arts Council at a later date.

The finished piece will resemble a circular hole saw and will be called “Across the Grain.” Sayre derived the name from many places, both from the region’s treasured past and its anticipated future.

“This ability to commit to doing something ensures that there is a future,” explains Sayre. “The act of bringing this sculpture to Lenoir is going across the grain, and I get the sense there is something unique here.”

The sculpture will be bordered by a grassy plaza at the corner of Harper Avenue and Church Street in downtown Lenoir. The finished plaza will feature a sidewalk with green stepping stones that will acknowledge the financial donors for the project, which was funded by donations to the Caldwell Arts Council. There will be seating created by local artists using historic local timbers along with a grassy berm for viewing the sculpture.

Sayre’s first interaction with Lenoir was as a young, upcoming competing artist at the second Sculpture Celebration in Lenoir in 1986. More than 20 years later, he was asked to be a judge at the Sculpture Celebration by Executive Director Lee Carol Giduz.

Sayre also was invited by the Caldwell Arts Council to inventory and assess the current 77-piece sculpture collection in Caldwell County.

Thomas Sayre lived a decade in neighboring Burke and Rutherford counties and had developed a love for the area.

Sayre explains three important reasons that compelled him to agree to build one of his sculptures in Lenoir.

“First, it was the landscape itself because I lived nearby for 10 years,” he said. “Second, it was the unusual history of sculpture in this community. And thirdly, I’ve come to have enormous respect for the leadership in this town. For a town this size to elect to raise the money to do a large, prominent and contemporary sculpture in its downtown on city land is unusual. There are communities I have worked with who claim more sophistication who can’t even get out of the starting blocks. I find this inspiring.”

Sayre is known worldwide for his work. He, along with architect Steve Schuster, is a founding principal of the multi-disciplinary design firm, Clearscapes, and has collaborated to produce lighting, furniture, terrazzo floors and specialty surfaces.

He has created commissioned pieces in various locations in the United States including Boston, Sacramento, San Francisco and Tampa. He has also completed projects in Turkey, Thailand, Hong Kong and Canada. In North Carolina, Sayre is well known for his creation of “Gyre” at the North Carolina Museum of Art, which includes three earth-casted ellipses on the Museum Park Trail.

Sayre’s work also moves beyond his more familiar earth-casting techniques, such as The Shimmer Wall at the Raleigh Convention Center or the stainless steel sculptures that hang near the Washington Nationals baseball stadium in Washington, D.C.

Sayre attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a Morehead Scholarship and majored in English and studio art. After graduation, he moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., where he was a Michigan Fellow with a three-year grant from the Ford Foundation to make sculpture at the University of Michigan. In 1975, Mr. Sayre attended the Master of Fine Arts Program at the Cranbrook Academy of Art for the one year. Caldwell Arts Council invites the community to come meet Thomas Sayre on Monday evening, April 9 at 6pm at the City-County Chambers, 801 West Avenue, NW in downtown Lenoir, and hear a presentation about this undertaking.

For more information on Thomas Sayre, including his background and commissioned pieces, visit www.thomassayre.com. For more information about the Caldwell Arts Council and its renowned sculpture collection, which soon will include a Sayre piece, visit www.caldwellarts.com or call 828-754-2486.