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Sculptor Wheelwright’s nature-inspired work on display at St. Paul’s

  • “Moonstone” by Joseph Wheelwright.

    “Moonstone” by Joseph Wheelwright.

  •  “Moonstone” by Joseph Wheelwright.

    “Moonstone” by Joseph Wheelwright.

  • “Moonstone” by Joseph Wheelwright.
  •  “Moonstone” by Joseph Wheelwright.

The woods may look like a collection of rocks and sticks, some big some small. But when Joseph Wheelwright walks into the woods, it becomes something altogether more remarkable. He’s surrounded by friends. The trees wave a hello as twigs clasp hands and dance. All the while, a boulder rests with a look of sweet repose on its craggy face. “He finds these stones and rocks and pieces of wood,” said Colin Callahan, head of fine arts programming and Hargate Gallery director at St. Paul’s School. “And he seems to bring out what’s already there. So the wood itself may already look like a person, and he just carries that through. So the piece looks natural and carved at the same time.”

A collection of Wheelwright’s work will be on display at the Hargate Gallery at St. Paul’s School beginning Tuesday. The retrospective will highlight Wheelwright’s inventive and beautifully crafted body of sculpted work, Callahan said. The gallery usually does three outside exhibits per year, and it chose Wheelwright because of his innovative use of natural materials.

But Wheelwright, a Boston artist, is no stranger to St. Paul’s. Not only is he a graduate of the class of 1966, but his “Moonstone” sculpture has been decorating and surprising visitors along the path beside the Lower School Pond for years.

“It’s just sort of dumped there in the woods,” Callahan said. “And it looks like it belongs there; it’s this crescent moon, but you can see it has carved eyes and polished the features.”

Wheelwright is a master carver of stones, trees, bones, and other natural materials. Callahan said that wasn’t always the case. When Wheelwright started out, he couldn’t afford sculpting materials like marble and wood. So he just started making things out of whatever scraps he could find. Over time, that has developed into a signature style.

“The role of any artist is to work from life, as a call for people to look at it and re-examine life again,” Callahan said. Wheelwright’s work, he went on to say, makes people stop and reconsider what they may have until then taken for granted.

“Maybe the exhibit will make them go out and start looking for faces in the trees themselves,” he said.

Among the pieces in various media, this exhibit will include a selection of smaller carvings from Wheelwright’s Moonstone series, as well as a wooden piece done when he was a student at St. Paul’s.

Wheelwright lives and works in Boston and Vermont, where he maintains a foundry for casting his tree personages into bronze.

Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. St. Paul’s School is located at 325 Pleasant St. in Concord. Admission is free and open to the public. For information, call 229-4644.

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