Nature’s Way

Sculptor Andy Moerlein ’77 branches out.

Sculptor Moerlein can often be found foraging in forests. That’s where he finds materials such as tree limbs or rocks for his sculptures, which range from small gallery pieces to outdoor installations up to 50 feet tall. Moerlein, with his wife and fellow artist Donna Dodson, builds large-scale public art projects that reflect the sensibilities of a place. For his larger works at museums and art centers around the world, Moerlein uses his found materials and pliable maple or bamboo saplings that he cuts by hand and bends, ties and weaves on-site. His “Avian Avatars” installation in Manhattan in spring 2015 featured five mythical bird sculptures made of branches, yellow caution tape and plastic grocery bags towering over plazas in the Garment District. Artnet named it one of “New York’s 10 Most Beautiful Public Art Shows.”

Last year Moerlein organized volunteers in Taiwan to create another bird sculpture—the 20-foot-tall Intrepid Albatross—with bamboo, recycled rubber and mirrors on a village shoreline. “It was a great give-and-take with ideas and time and energy,” he says. The outdoor installation, like many of Moerlein’s works, can withstand the forces of weather and last from three to five years. “It’s very Zen,” he says. “You build something. It stays for a while, and then it’s gone.”

Moerlein developed an appreciation for nature as a child in Alaska and gravitated toward natural materials as a visual studies major at Dartmouth. Recently, he has explored the ancient Chinese art form called scholars’ rocks, which are sculptures built from textured stones. Later this year he will have a solo show at the Boston Sculptors Gallery and coordinate a national exhibition of artists interpreting this tradition. Moerlein’s philosophy is one of organic change: “As an artist, you’re never one thing for very long. Otherwise it becomes boring—like work—and I do this because it’s not work.”

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