Stone Sculpture on Campus Trumped by Flashier Competition

A review of a Western Washington University sculpture

Stone Enclosure: Rock Rings by Nancy Holt

If you’re walking quickly back to the Fairhaven dorms on the south side of campus on a path through Academic West, you’ll miss it. If you do not raise your head and glance to the side, you will not see the rocks stacked upon next, to form the rings on top the small hill. Hundreds of students, going mostly unnoticed, pass it daily. Nancy Holt’s art style is all rooted with the environment it is placed. Land art itself became popular in the 1960s, asking people to become more aware of how they affect the world around them. Land art, is art created in nature with mostly natural components like rocks, water, branches and the like. Holt had often worked around the idea of time and space and how those things compliment the environment she placed them. She wanted to create harmony between her art and the land it occupied.

She made many pieces of land art in her lifetime, all made to reflect the land it was on and influence how people thought. Many of her works take into account the world around it, like Annual Ring where the sunlight coming into a hole in the dorm fits perfectly in a ring on the ground, it signifies that it is solar noon on the summer solstice, and other rings on the ground signify many other celestial occurrences. Holt has said that she is concerned with making art that not only makes an impact visually, but also is functional and necessary in society.

The making of the sculpture back in 1977

Nancy Holt made what she calls Stone Enclosure: Rock Rings in 1977–78. She took into consideration of the land and how the terrain of the campus was when she made it. The natural beauty of Bellingham, Washington and the northwest seaport town inspired her to create this art piece. This piece in particular relies on the stars rather than the sun, which was her usual inspiration. It is mapped under the celestial layout of the North Star. There are parts of the sculpture that align with the cardinal directions, four arches that run north and south.

The arches align to line up with the cardinal directions

The holes in the sides of the rings refer to points on a compass to tie the whole design together.

The holes align to signify the points on a compass

The inspiration for using the North Star as an anchor for this piece relies on Bellingham being a seaport town, and the coastal navigators of old used the star in their navigation.

The sculpture is made of what seem like many free-standing rust-colored stones, stacked upon each other. The structure is sturdy and rigid, proven by many who have found intricate ways to scale the sides of the sculpture and sit on top of it, casually playing instruments or soaking in the sun. Unlike some of her other sculptures, this one doesn’t seem to have an obvious function. There are no special places for sun to come down on, or some other natural phenomenon. It is simply an ode to the town’s history in a unique way. Stone Enclosure like other land arts was simple in the idea that it made you think about our influence on the land.

The brick of the building nearby and the bark of the trees behind the sculpture help the Stone Enclosure blend into the landscape. The other art pieces on campus stick out more and are widely known across campus.

Stadium Piece by Bruce Nauman

Sitting in an open grassy area sits Stadium Piece, or what everyone calls the Stairs to Nowhere, huge stone stairs that go up and down leading only back to the ground it starts on.

For Handel by Mark di Suvero

Or the large red sculpture outside a Preforming Arts Center called For Handel.

Maybe it’s because they are large in scale, while maybe it’s the fact that they are along the path most traveled. On a paper titled “Guide to Campus Resources” there’s a map that lists every building. In the corner there’s an extra key to the side called the Sculpture Collection. The sixth one down is the humble Stone Enclosure. It’s there, and it will continue to be there for decades to come, pointing the students of campus in the direction they need under the guidance of the North Star.