You already may be familiar with “Art in the Wild.”
The annual outdoor exhibit, now in its fifth year, showcases art installations integrated within the rustic, leafy surroundings—the trees, grasses and wetlands—of Wildwood Park’s 3.1-mile loop.
But have you ever wondered who makes these unique artworks—and how they go about their creative regimen?
I did. So, I went to find out.
I could not have truly understood Ray Curanzy’s style without first visiting his creative space.
His third-generation family farm, in rural Lebanon County, surrounds the main road and features an 1800s-era stone house and mature trees that his grandparents planted. As he names each individual tree—persimmon, paw-paw, magnolia, Persian walnut—I become aware of how different each looks.
A woodworker by trade who goes by the online moniker, “Merry Woodsman,” Curanzy feels rooted in his family’s orchard.
“I draw my energy from this farm,” he said. “It’s much bigger than I am. This space is so humbling, so full of my grandparents’ influence.”
The barn overflows with treasures he’s accumulated from nature walks and other places he’s lived. In addition to the sawdust, tools and wood scraps I expected to find in this barn-turned-woodshop, I saw antique doll parts, X-rays from the 1950s and a collection of wasp nests I hoped were dormant.
“I’ll use these in my creations some day,” he said. “I stop collecting treasures when my pockets are full.”
On uneven ground outside the barn, sprawling across multiple sawhorses, I saw a sculpture-in-progress for “Art in the Wild.” I guessed that the bowed wood resembled fancy arches, but I guessed wrong. I had stumbled into him shaping and positioning a large octopus tentacle.
“I wanted to represent the transition of man fearing-to-revering sea monsters in symbolizing dangerous, uncharted waters,” he said. “Octopuses have a level of intelligence that inspired me.”
Curanzy’s exhibit spot is in the water, along the towpath of Wildwood.
“I wanted to lend credence to the image of a squid coming out of the water to accentuate the space,” he said.
The attention-grabber will be a wooden figure, maybe a “bird-person,” he speculated, as he still extemporaneously interacted with his art.
“Think circus ringleader, where the figure is directing the guests’ attention towards the tentacle—the main attraction,” he said.
Unlike many woodworkers who try to create flawless pieces, Curanzy fashions most of his process around imperfection and spontaneity.
“Why not start off with curved wood instead of straight boards?” he said. “We miss all sorts of opportunities during our misguided search for perfection.”
Part of Curanzy’s artistic contribution was his accidental collaboration with fellow Wildwood artists Eve Gurbacki and Annie Zimmerman. He gave them disks from his farm and helped with their installation.
“It cost me nothing to help them, and I knew I would be part of something bigger—positive exposure for the park,” he said. “Good interactions lead to positive things.”
Gurbacki has professionally collaborated with Zimmerman for more than a decade.
“Annie and I are classically trained in fine art, making [Curanzy’s] creative process different from ours,” she said.
Despite different approaches, Curanzy inspired them to expand their art space on both sides of the path to make it more three-dimensional, she said.
When I met these two artists at the Nature Center at Wildwood, they had everything ready to go: their slide presentation, sketches, material samples and a ride to the exact site. Something about their organized partnership—the click between them—was palpable.
“When we research and write our proposal, we think about what theme we want to convey,” Gurbacki said. “A lot of people come to Wildwood Park to look at birds.”
I spied her bird necklace.
Both this year and last year, birds have played a role in their art. Their 2016 exhibit featured birds on wood discs with blue dye. They resembled geodes, or crystalline formations, hanging from the trees. They made their cyanotypes—bluish images—using a process involving mixed chemicals, cold water and sunlight.
The pair’s 2017 exhibit, “When Trees Dream,” features more cyanotypes—white birds against blue sky in different stages of flight.
“It will be a canopy over the path,” Zimmerman said.
They create together mostly virtually, sharing ideas and solving problems. They play with materials to decide the best way to install their pieces and how to maintain them. Elements of their professional art training surface in their plans: sketches, photographs, dyes and bright pops of color.
I followed them to their exhibit site. In selecting the site, they had to consider “how to incorporate our work in visual harmony and compositionally within the natural space,” Gurbacki said. “Then we consider the practical things, like material durability, season changes, foliage coverage during each season, sun bleaching, weather damage.”
Zimmerman added that they think through motion and the movement of the pieces.
“How the wind will swivel and sway them, and how we can transition natural objects,” she said.
Their methodical approach to creating art has turned them into engineers by necessity. At the same time, the space flows and speaks to them while they use trial and error.
I watched their recycled bedsheets unfurl across the width of the path, clouds and birds outlined in denim blue. I imagined them hoisting the sheets using pulleys, components weaving through the trees, people transitioning underneath the azure canopies to absorb the art.
“Art in the Wild” runs through October at Wildwood Park, 100 Wildwood Way, Harrisburg. The park is open every day from dawn until dusk. For more information, visit www.wildwoodlake.org.
Author: Gina Napoli