PAIS Artist Residency

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Using materials from and found at Padre Island National Seashore itself – sand, gypsum, pigments referencing area plants, sea hearts, and garbage – a large sculpture with a spiral component is underway.  It will highlight and celebrate the general areas of the landscape (Gulf, Shore, Dunes, Grasslands, Mud Flats, and Laguna Madre).  You can follow along on its progress here, and more images are available on our Instagram and Facebook accounts.



Motifs 1-12 are appearing below.  Please note that these are in-progress designs that will now improve as they are produced for the final piece – we have spent much time gathering, absorbing the landscape, thinking, and experimenting.  One reason for experimentation includes housing fresco inside of plastic, which is obviously not the norm!  We created a bonding layer of gypsum for the lime plaster and “breathing” in the caps so that the frescoes do not crack and pull away from the plastic.

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The gaillardia – also known as the firewheel, Indian blanket flower, or sundance – is a flower with connotations of both strength and joy.

Beautiful Baptisia pods reference the balance of inner and outer experience. The pods are joined by sea whip (the red border in each piece) and fresco “wounds.”

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Impressions of natural marks, including animal prints, comprise one motif.

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These spirals hail from inside of a squid and are difficult to find intact on the shore. For this one, a mould will be made of the three found. They will be arranged in a triskelion, which speaks to our spiral’s message of creation, protection, and transformation. The broken background suggests that wholeness is possible even for that which seems beyond hope for it.

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The railroad vine is a plant that holds together the mobile dunes of the barrier island. Here the leaves and vines are still being placed; the background around them will have the texture of sand, the material that appears in every piece.

As with each of the twelve motifs, the Sand Dollar (using the lesser-known side of the creature for inspiration) motif contains sacred symbolism.  We like the luminosity in this simple fresco design.

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Much work to do on the grackles and prickly pear yet – it has only been roughly sketched out, as it was a design with one of the clearest end results in mind early on.

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Another set of impressions acknowledges the beauty found in man-made marks, even unconscious ones: this may have been from the bottom of someone’s shoe on the shore.

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Deer speaks of gentleness. Those encountered on the island were some of the loveliest sights and memory-makers.

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The sea heart endures for miles in the ocean and often washes up bearing the wounds of its journey. Ours will be polished and housed in nichos made of plastic lids (see the sketch in the background for the sharper rays we will achieve, ones that will extend to the other circles in the spiral, suggesting it is the heart that connects the individual units into the whole).

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Our turtle will be the final design. Five kinds of endangered turtles are protected at Padre Island National Seashore. Here we began to play with the idea of a raised back…but this motif received less brain-storming and may alter quite a bit before installation.


Each dot in our seven foot diameter spiral is a repurposed bottle cap from the shore that houses an original artwork. When these black dots are no longer visible and the colour spectrum of our motifs altered (for example, the pink reliefs will become pale white with coloured accents when cast), the sculpture will have a very different look from the one you may imagine in viewing the progress.


The last of the impressions are being taken from the land and the twelve motif drafts are nearly complete.


Several of the motifs in the work would like to contain both relief and fresco. This “sculptural fresco” approach has created new layers of problem-solving but exciting ideas. In addition, each motif will evolve from a small scale to the larger, more dimensional completed design. Here the technical issues are worked out with the motif inspired by the speckled crab.

Fresco Drafts

The slow development of fresco motifs and a handful of impressions from the shore…


There are currently twelve repeating motifs to be designed – two per area in the park – and they must be able to be reproduced on different scales while each remaining handmade. The next few weeks will be spent developing these as well as gathering refuse from the shore to house them.


The template arrives and is pieced together.


Why a spiral? This symbol can be thought of as the armature and conceptual theme for the work underway: it is found throughout nature and is considered sacred and healing by many cultures. I wanted a base to work from that would reference this and, to a lesser but related extent, a rose window (also sacred to more than one culture) as a lens through which one might see the park’s protected contents with new eyes.


One of the plaster impressions taken from the landscape. These may be combined with small fresco paintings and relief tiles.


A fondness for the grackles has developed (for reasons recorded in the journaling component of the residency). They will likely show up somewhere in the sculpture.


The amount of garbage that washes ashore is staggering. With a little help from the staff, some of it is being repurposed for the sculpture.

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Initial brainstorming, which is now giving way to preparations for fresco and relief work.