The Watcher is a life-size figurative sculpture that overlooks a quiet path in the woods at the Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman, New York. It’s been there for six or seven years, but coming upon it, you’d think it had been there for centuries. It seems to grow out of the land, manifesting the spirit of the place.
If this is a wood nymph, it is no pale, delicate fairy. The Watcher is rough and gnarled like an old tree, an embodiment of life force that survives the lashings of seasons by twisting and toughening and enduring.
Bellavia is the artist who created The Watcher. For many years she has been a strong presence in the creative community of the festivals at Brushwood. A few years ago she moved from Western New York to New Orleans, but still returns to Brushwood when she can. (Click on her name above to see other artwork by Bellavia.)
The Watcher is made is made of bronze, pine, burlap, organic matter, fiberglass resin, bone, and cast glass. Parts of it are cast from a live model, Liag, who is a friend of the artist. Liag told me “I have felt an attachment to The Watcher since I first saw Bella’s sketches in 2004. The process of me becoming part of the sculpture, my torso and arms and hand, was profound. I feel she is now part of me. I sense her presence within and around me all the time. She is alive.”
I asked Bellavia if she designed the work in advance or if it emerged from experimentation. She replied, “I had a rough vision of the piece when I started. It turned out a little like the sketches but so very different at the same time. The piece itself takes over at some point and brings itself to the front and I just become a conduit for it.”
She said the Watcher “was not made with brushwood in mind. I don’t work with places in mind for the work. I simply could not move her down south with me and I felt like I really wanted to give something back to the community at Brushwood.”
For Bellavia, the work is about female identity and body image. In an artist’s statement, she says:
As a human who happens to be a woman I am all too aware that public opinion and disapproval is something that we are still essentially bound by. Our societal teachings about the many aspects of “self” are generally distorted and inaccurate. I am interested in presenting the viewer with a look into those distortions and offering glimpses of the possibilities in transforming that fear of disapproval or censure. My personal modes of perception towards the meaning and substance of life in all its complexities cause my work to be up close, personal and visceral. My artwork is exploration as a process of defining/redefining an image of the self and body. Oftentimes beautiful, dangerous and disturbing, a palpable presence arises from my work. There is always a hint of darkness underneath the beauty, completing the circle of light and dark. My work is daring, and shows courage, grace and beauty in being willing to challenge normal assumptions about sexuality and boundaries. I am very upfront about the assertion of ones sexuality and exploration of such. I am often my own subject, facing myself, my past and my demons. I endeavor to show the transformation process that starts in the soul towards a new definition of the self. This artistic process brings a freedom from the weight of prejudices, traditions, and custom and the healing from that lies not in distancing myself from it, not in attempting to heal it, but in embracing the experience as part of being alive.
Many people are drawn to spend time with The Watcher, and a sort of altar has grown around the base of the sculpture. I feel a power in the work, and I’ve occasionally tried to capture some of its spirit in photographs. This summer, I used The Watcher as a model for light painting. Light painting photographs are taken in the dark with a long exposure time, during which I move around the subject with flashlights or other hand-held lights, applying strokes of light to bring out aspects of the form or to suggest energy within.
The video below is made up of some of my light painting images of The Watcher, dissolving one into another so that light seems to move around and animate her earthy form. This is my personal exploration of the palpable presence of The Watcher.
All of the photographs in this video are straight shots, with no digital painting or manipulation.