It’s one of the first truly brisk days of autumn at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. The sun sparkles as icy gusts of wind drive fallen leaves into wild, calligraphic trajectories across Waleska’s Way. The ADA-compliant, accessible stone path leads down the park’s pond-side hill to Andy Goldsworthy’s Watershed, a permanent, site-specific installation which opened to the public on November 9, 2019.
The acclaimed British land artist has made his mark on this planet by working directly with natural materials, natural forces and the landscape – creating works that challenge the viewer’s perspective on nature, time, weather and permanence.
Built partially embedded into the hill just below the deCordova’s rear parking lot, the functionality and engineering behind Watershed is, like many natural processes, hidden from view. It’s a modest space – a shed true to its name and from the outside, it is meant to seem just so.
A clutch of us wind-chapped reporters press into the shed’s roughly 9’ x 15’ interior. We blink in the stone-cooled dimness, taking in the hand-hewn granite block walls, two built-in viewing benches and their centerpiece, a 10” diameter drain outlet nestled like a dark star within meticulously engineered, concentric stone rings that make up the shed’s entire rear wall.
Goldsworthy and his team of stonemasons pulled this granite from the family-run Le Masurier Quarry in North Chelmsford, MA back in April 2019. Every piece of stone was hand-cut and trimmed, and the rear wall was assembled on site at the quarry. Although the granite is the same type used for street curbs, in the pastoral setting of the sculpture park, the material reflects the area’s farmland heritage and the wandering stone walls that crisscross this part of Metro West.
While the outlet remained dry for us on the clear, cold day of the press preview, hidden engineering embedded in the hillside is designed to channel groundwater from the parking lot to pour noisily forth during wet weather. Over time, mineral deposits and traces of mold will accumulate to speak of the mysterious process by which mountains are worn down to riverbeds.
“There’s this way in which Andy Goldsworthy shows [us] some of the invisible textures and patterns of the natural world – not only nature’s pastoral and therapeutic qualities – but also nature’s dark side,” remarks Sarah Montross, Senior Curator, deCordova. “In a heavy downpour… what would be a very sturdy, safe place to be is also a place where you might feel nervous with all this water gushing around you.”
I’m of two minds – simultaneously wishing that I had been present the night prior during a particularly powerful rainstorm to hear, feel and smell Watershed’s full potency and strength – and at once grateful that I hadn’t!
As unassuming as Watershed is from the outside, the project was over 10 years in the making – long preceding this year’s integration of the deCordova with the land conservation non-profit Trustees of Reservations. As part of the park’s permanent collection, Watershed is the only publicly accessible permanent Goldsworthy work in New England.