By Bernie Petit
During the drenching downpour of Hurricane Joaquin, sculptor Hoss Haley built and climbed a tree of his own creation.
Days earlier, he shipped 27 corten steel blocks from his Asheville studio to Charlotte on the back of three semi flatbeds. He then braved the storm to assemble the sedan-sized pieces into Old Growth, the 40-foot, 20-ton sculpture which took root at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport Wilson Air Center in October.
“We’re out here welding and I’m getting shocked because it’s raining and it’s wet,” he said. “It seems kind of crazy, but I didn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Haley likened the construction process to playing with oversized Legos. He designed each block to fit square and true within the overall sculpture, even building a machine to weld the roughly quarter-mile (1,500 linear square-feet) of corners in the public artwork.
He experimented by building a smaller, 25-foot model (New Growth) at his studio before erecting the larger version in Charlotte. After assembling the massive sculpture – and after the rain passed – Haley and assistant Justin Turcotte spent the next two weeks continuing to weld and bolt the pieces together.
“Some artists, especially now, tend to work more as designers and then everything kind of gets handed off to fabricators and all of that,” Haley said. “But I choose not to do that and to be very hands on. It’s much more intimate and I can know the work much more intimately.
“There’s nothing lost in it. It’s a pure joy.”
While Old Growth is designed to evoke the presence of a tree, simply making his version of a tree didn’t interest Haley. He wanted to explore the relationship we have with towering trees.
“I did a lot of trying to get a sense of how big trees really can be, looking at how tall is that tree and trying to get my head around how it feels to be in the presence of a large tree,” he said. “A lot of that has to do with the canopy that it creates.”
The concept played into where the sculpture is situated at the fixed base operator facility. The manmade tree oak makes an immediate and impressive statement to visitors as soon as they turn on to the tree-lined drive leading to the air center.
Cars and buses easily pass underneath Old Growth’s lowest branch. The sculpture will eventually provide shelter for airport employees during lunch breaks.
There are a few things left to do before the project is officially finished, including hardscaping, landscaping and lighting. But they’ll get done.
After all, a hurricane couldn’t stop Haley from installing the sculpture.
“To be up in that basket 30 feet off the ground,” he said, “I just felt grateful. I was pretty tired and burned and scarred, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”