Swimming Pool Art

Sep 1, 2014

The Shenandoah National Park made a surprising announcement last week - inviting people to apply for an artist-in-residence program. 

During this - the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act - the park wanted to celebrate its year-round residents and invite artists to record the natural beauty of the place. 

The winner will have two weeks in September, all expenses paid, to live and work in the Shenandoah.
Near Charlottesville, another artistic happening is underway. 

Each Sunday in the summer, owner Todd Barnett invites musicians like Rusalka to perform alongside the Blue Ridge Swim Club’s historic pool.

“It’s a natural water pool, the third oldest in the country.”

More than a hundred years old, it’s the length of a football field,  fed by a local spring, and designed by a guy who worked on the Panama Canal.  

Barnett has organized soccer and croquet matches on surrounding lawns, yoga classes and - in 13 acres of old growth forest --  the annual Andy Goldsworthy sculpture competition. “You have to work with materials that you find here.”

“My piece is all done with bamboo, and it’s a large, intertwining piece that’s about 30 feet long.”

Renee Balfour’s work runs through the trees, down the hill, into the pool and a nearby stream.   Like the other six entries, it was completed without the use of power tools, nails, bolts or screws.

“It’s a big challenge, and you end up with poison ivy, sunburn bug bites, but I’ll do it as long as they have it.”

Dave Moore is also happy to come back, year after year, to craft works from wood and stone, moss and mud - to be part of a competition named for a British sculptor who relied on natural materials.

“I love Andy Goldsworthy, and I love the people and any excuse to hang out here is a good one for me.”
And for Adrian Dent, this was a perfect family event.

“The kids dragged the bamboo, did the foraging for us and then clipped it, and we spent pretty much all day yesterday weaving.  In the outside, world, people were saying it’s really  not a nice day, but we were out here in the rain and just loving it.  It was really an invitation to just play in nature.”

Earlier this summer, painters were invited to set up their easels and commemorate the pool on canvas. 

Katie Wood struggled to get the color of the water right as the light changed and swimmers paddled by.

“Was it hard painting in the heat and not jumping in?  Oh gosh.  I had to restrain myself.”

And Dave Moore considered it the prize for his participation in both sculpting and painting contests.

“Oh yeah. I can’t leave here without getting in. I think it’s against the rules.”

For Meg West and Renee Balfour, there was one other reward - getting out of the studio to meet other artists.

“It’s just an opportunity to get together with other plein aire painters.  I’ve met a few today, so I really enjoy that.”

“There’s something just really wonderful to know that all over the property there are artists doing the same thing that you are.  Y’know they’re digging, they’re cutting, they’re working in mud, they’re doing a lot of creative things.”

This year’s winners - Renee Balfour, Aaron Baker and Katie Wood.