For Lyman Whitaker, artistic beauty is found in the wind. His lifelong interest in the wind resulted in “Wind Sculptures in Motion: The Kinetic Art of Lyman Whitaker”, now on display through July 31 at the Dallas Arboretum.
“I always loved wind as a child. It’s a little mysterious, a little bit dangerous. It had a certain intrigue for me. It’s been my friend. Its furnished me actually with a living and it’s been a major inspiration,” Whitaker said.
The artist, based in southern Utah, has been producing art for 50 years, working with everything from wood to cast iron. For the last 30 years, he has focused on wind sculptures, producing them by hand.
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One of his favorite materials is copper. “Copper does what it is going to do. It has a dynamic surface to it. It changes with humidity. It ends up green; that’s what it naturally goes into,” Whitaker said.
As a distinction to the natural patina of copper, he enjoys working with stainless steel. “The metal itself creates a contrast which is another way, whereas the others blend in,” Whitaker said.
Ranging in height from five to 27 feet, the 139 sculptures are arranged in groupings throughout the 66-acre garden.
“They pretty much gave me free-reign. I just went and picked places that I thought would work best for the sculpture,” Whitaker said. “The way I look at it is it is just vocabulary words and I assemble them to fit the space as I see it in the most appropriate way.”
Whitaker considers each grouping a single piece of artwork. “They’re kind of like little individuals. They’re in a happy little family with each one being unique,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker and the Dallas Arboretum began plotting where to place the sculpture groupings in January. Some sculptures such as the stainless-steel grouping are dramatic showstoppers while other groupings are smaller and set in more intimate settings. “I like them to be discovered,” Whitaker said. “I like the sense that you have to find them.”
The sculptures effortlessly complement a garden setting because nature is Whitaker’s primary inspiration for his work. “The shapes are informed by plants, sometimes leaves or by how a branch moves,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker has shaped copper into flowers like tulips and Desert Flame, a flower he admired on his hikes in the Southwest. Boat sails and the structure of DNA inspired helix shaped sculptures. Windmills and sunflowers result in Double Spinners. Orbs and Twister Ovals are the result of Whitaker’s active imagination.
Over the decades, Whitaker has experimented with materials to figure out how the wind will interact with the sculpture, although he admits he is at the mercy of nature.
“I just build them, and the wind does what it wants,” Whitaker said. “Some of them set up harmonies and they’ll start waving back and forth. There are various little problem children.” The sculptures are built to sustain strong winds and Whitaker seems unconcerned about the unpredictable Texas spring weather.
Depending on the structure, the sculptures move to different rhythms. How the sculpture is moving is all in the eye of the beholder. “If you’re a little distance from them, then your perception will change, and you can’t tell which way they are moving,” Whitaker said.
It’s rare that there isn’t a little breeze. Whitaker explained when it is momentarily still, the motionless sculptures are spooky. Even in the lightest wind, the sculptures move ever so slightly. “I actually like them going slow because a lot of it is following the shape as they rotate,” Whitaker said.
The wind sculptures appeal to all ages, with children delighting in the whimsical energy of the works and older generations appreciating the hypnotic peace the sculptures inspire. “I like them being quiet. There’s so much noise in this world and I’m glad I’m not contributing to it,” Whitaker said. “There are here just to generate joy.”