Coconino Center for the Arts, Flagstaff, AZ, 2013
Dimensions: 8' in Diameter x 54" H
Materials: 560 lbs. of Quetta Pine needles
After receiving my MFA, I moved to the state of Washington and lived near the Canadian border. Without a job, I lived on the fringe for ten months taking care of the summer studio of the director of the art department at Dartmouth. I lived on thirty dollars a week that my fiancée (and now wife) would send me, twenty of which went to fuel my car. I shot grouse for sustenance. I painted and drew, chopped wood, and wandered the woods and mountains surrounding my home. Unable to afford paint, I started creating work with natural objects I would find: wood, pine sap, bones, a road-killed deer, a coyote. This was the beginning of designing installations using natural local materials. I have always had a fascination for collecting, but now my collecting became more focused, with an intention to use materials which would become the symbolic vehicles for my ideas.
After my stint in Washington, I moved to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. My wandering across the U.S. was a symbolic search for a new aesthetic using new materials to create with. My use of cornmeal came about this way: living in the Mid-west, I wanted to use a material which would symbolize the indigenous soils of America.
The genesis of A Bed in the Sky, above Quetta, came in 2000, when I was invited to do an outdoor sculpture at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Visiting the site, I discovered the thick layer of pine needles underneath the Quetta Pine trees at the entrance to the park. This tree, indigenous to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was planted at the park's entrance in the 1970s. A few years earlier, as a faculty member at the University of Michigan, I had been invited to participate in the faculty show. I collected enough White Pine needles to create an 18 foot diameter circular disc, with a pathway to the center of the circle. A surveyor’s transit sat in the axis, focused on a drawing of a landscape, of a forest cut over for a new development. This drawing hung across the gallery on the wall amongst the artwork of other faculty.
In the spring of 1992, I was working as a graphic designer in Iowa City, as my wife finished writing her dissertation. Sitting in my cubicle, word came to me that the nearby state park had done a forest thinning, so I borrowed a pick-up and went and loaded it with 80 Slippery Elm logs. Those logs sat in a pile for months in the backyard of our rental until an idea sprang into my head. I would create a symbolic form of my Danish name, Skabelund, skabe – a small enclosure or grove of trees, lund – creator.
On an autumn evening, I started balancing the 80 logs together creating a vertical bundle of stalks. As I turned to retrieve the last log for placing in the bundle, I heard a loud thunder behind me, the logs coming down with a crash. I rebuilt the form and then in the darkness of that night, like monks in some medieval scene from a Andrei Tarkovsky film, using a wheelbarrow, my wife and I circled the form, binding the logs together with 10,000 feet of sisal.
My Dad’s father was a logger. He had built and ran his own sawmill in northern Utah. He was also schizophrenic and eventually put away in the state psychiatric hospital. One day, the police were summoned because he was trying to get into the Logan Mormon temple, beating the big wooden door with his fists and head. My bundle of vertical logs became my Sacred Grove.