Public Art at Cross County

As we mourn the loss of Steve Jobs and marvel at the iPad, iPod and iPhone, we may tend to under value the lowly hammer, wrench and axe.  Not so for Eric Wildrick whose sculptures embody a fascination for hand tools, which for early mankind made possible the impossible.  Two of his sculptures made of welded steel wrenches were installed recently at the newly renovated Cross County Shopping Center (CCSC), the first of many art installations planned in collaboration with ArtsWestchester to grace the mall’s beautifully landscaped grounds.

Wildrick was an easy choice for the owners of the mall and its Marketing Manager Liz Pollack, who were immediately smitten by the artwork made of steel tools, which seemed to them a fitting tribute to the completion of a four-year, $250 million renovation to the shopping complex. For the artist, the work symbolizes the connection between the hand and the tool, which in a sense is an extension of the hand, allowing man to develop stronger, sharper, better ways to build.

“Hands weren’t strong enough so man created an extension of that hand in wood, stone, bronze, zinc, iron and later steel.” Wildrick likes to work in steel, which he reveres as the “oldest recycled” material. He waxes poetic about the notion that tools are embued by the hands of former users, about the shapes of machines and industrial forms, about Charles Sheeler paintings and about sculptor Claes Oldenburg with whom he worked.

As the son of a mechanic, growing up near Allentown, PA, Wildrick secretly explored the factories, unbeknownst to its owners, and developed a reverence for industrial spaces and common objects. In between his artistic studies, he found work as a commercial welder, learning the skills he would later teach to aspiring young sculptors at SUNY Purchase College such as forging, smithing, machining, fastening, forming, bending, rolling, raising and sinking.  With a fine arts degree from SUNY New Paltz, he honed his skills at the Johnson Atelier before coming to Purchase to build the foundry for the college. Now he serves as technical director of the facility, teaches welded sculpture, champions public art on the campus and buys used tools at tag sales and flea markets, which he transforms into works of art. Last week, with a car-full of college students, he was feted at a reception under a tent at the Cross County Shopping Center.  The event was more elegant than he ever imagined would be arranged for a tool guy like him.

Picture caption: Artist Eric Wildrick, technical director and adjunct assistant professor of sculpture at the School of Art + Design at Purchase College; Janet Langsam, CEO, ArtsWestchester, Chappaqua; Charles Ferguson, Senior Property Manager, Cross County Shopping Center, White Plains; Liz Pollack, Marketing Director, Cross County Shopping Center, Bronxville, gathered in front of the public art sculptures at the installation.

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