Thomas Sayre: The Art of Living Well

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Somewhere on the three towering, clay-colored rings at the NCMA’s Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park is the impression of a slightly bent silver spoon that artist Thomas Sayre found when he was creating the piece in 1999.

Named Gyre, the sculpture is the first public version of an earth casting method that Sayre is known for, in which he creates a mold by sculpting a trench below the ground, fills it with reinforced, highly engineered concrete and steel, lets it cure, digs around it to release it from the earth and then picks it up with a crane and sets it on a foundation. Particles of dirt are visible within the piece, as are rocks, sticks, footprints, handprints and, in the case of Gyre, a spoon imprint, all permanent parts of the sculptures.

Sayre says he likes earth casting because it’s cheap and durable, but also because it creates a collaboration between the human hand and the grain of nature that’s completely unique each time. “The resulting art is a balance between human intention and what God—or nature—put in the ground over eons,” Sayre elaborates.

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A Washington D.C. native and UNC graduate, Sayre co-founded Clearscapes, a Raleigh-based full-service design firm, in 1981 with the late architect Steve Schuster as a way to merge the design practices of architecture and art. Clearscapes architects collaborate with artists to create functional designs that “serve to engage and inspire its users and their community.”

One of Clearscapes’ first big public projects was Marbles Kids Museum, which involved historic renovation and new construction, including a marble wall consisting of more than a million marbles sandwiched in perforated panels. The museum blurs the line between architecture and art, an excellent example of what Clearscapes attempts to achieve with each project. Other well-known examples of Clearscapes’ collaborative design efforts include the Shimmer Wall at the Raleigh Convention Center, Raleigh Union Station, Oberlin Rising, Transfer Co. Food Hall and Brewery Bhavana.

Sayre says a favorite among his pieces is located at Healing Transition’s men’s campus, an overnight shelter and recovery center for those dealing with addiction. The work spans the campus’s entire outdoor courtyard, starting with a giant slab barrier that guests encounter when they first exit the center’s main door. At the opposite end of the courtyard is an open doorway and the route to it signifies the 12 steps of the 12-step program, including a reflecting pool in the center that reflects what the program calls a “higher being.” Sayre says the barrier represents the inevitable challenges that we all have to deal with in life and that we negotiate each of our barriers in different ways, but the community at Healing Transitions is extremely supportive in helping those who need it get to recovery—the open doorway. “It’s my favorite piece and I think it nourishes people every day,” Sayre says. “As an artist, if I can do that, then I’ve done something really meaningful and important.”

Almost 40 years after Sayre and Schuster founded Clearscapes, Sayre says he’s learned a lot of lessons about his artistic process, the biggest being that you have to take risks.

“I’ve learned to listen, be humble and leap,” Sayre says. “I’ve realized I don’t have all the answers, but then I have to be a leaper on behalf of the group to come up with something new and fresh.”

Sayre says he sees himself as the visual leader of Clearscapes following the death of his partner in August, though he’s looking forward to handing over some of the reigns to the younger partners at Clearscapes so that he can experiment with new materials and continue to exercise his creativity and enrich Raleigh with his one-of-a-kind works of art.

“I know that [my sculptures] have added a texture to our city. That’s not that hard,” says Sayre. “I hope, beyond that, the pieces have made this place memorable.”

The Cardinal at North Hills celebrates the Art of Living Well® and is proud to commission this special editorial series. To learn more visit, lifeatthecardinal.com.

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