Elgin’s Margo Sawyer wins Guggenheim Fellowship

Margo Sawyer, the Elgin-based artist whose art intersects sculpture and architecture, has won a coveted Guggenheim Fellowship.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation recently announced 173 fellowships (including two joint fellowships) in arts and sciences for 2018. This honor comes with up to $45,000 to support one of the winners’ future projects.

“The Guggenheim Fellowship would allow me time and resources to cultivate designs of spaces transcendent,” Sawyer says. “Public places that foster contemplation.”

image1
Artist Margo Sawyer. Contributed

RELATED: Contemporary Austin collection to Blanton Museum.

Sawyer, 59, has been on the University of Texas art faculty for 30 years. For decades, she has transformed old brick structures in Elgin into multi-use arts spaces.

She is the niece of Harlem Renaissance painter Aaron Douglas and her father was one of the first African-Americans to serve in the U.S. diplomatic corps in the 1950s. He met her British mother in Accra, Ghana. Her grandfather founded the NAACP in Topeka, Kan. and helped initiate the legal action that became Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision that struck down school segregation.

Sawyer grew up the  U.S., U.K. and Cameroon. In 1973, her mother took her to Egypt during the Yom Kippur War.

“I was about 15 and it was an experience that made me the sculptor I am today,” Sawyer says. “We were the first and only 17 tourists allowed in the country. I spent 30 minutes alone in Tutankhamun’s tomb — an obsession as with many people ever since. The experience at Abu Simbel, where the monuments are carved into the living rock, a union of sculpture, architecture and painting united, has been my modus operandi all my life.”

Margo floor up
From Margo Sawyer’s recent solo show, ‘Reflect: Reflector,’ at the San Antonio Play House.

She is currently working on a glass colored spiral immersive sculpture for the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo.

“The viewer will be enveloped in a pool of color,” Sawyer says. “I just completed windows for a private chapel and also I’m working on a commission for the University of Houston all with hand-painted glass being made with Franz Mayer of Munich, who did the exquisite windows for Ellsworth Kelly‘s ‘Austin.”’

RELATED: Ellsworth Kelly’s ‘Austin’ worships light.

Sawyer realizes this is a big turning point during a long career of many achievements, including many works placed in private homes, museum collections and public spaces, along with wide recognition in the Austin arts community, including the Austin Critics Table designation as 2015 Artist of the Year.

“This is an amazing moment for me,” she says. “I have been making sculpture since I was 14 years old, and am honored that I have been a sculptor throughout my life. This year feels transformative and the recognition is monumental, a testament to the personal commitment and belief in the vision I have created.”

 

Step inside the enchanted stick village at Pease Park

Kids rush into the doors and hang out the windows. Adults step gingerly over the mulch floors and step back to view the five, tall, curved, leaning structures that look like something from “Where the Wild Things Are” or “The Hobbit.”

“We let the kids in early,” says StickWork artist Patrick Dougherty. “They weren’t sure they were allowed to come in the gate.”

Sam Dougherty works on a stick work sculpture with his artist father Patrick Dougherty, from Chapel Hill, N.C.  RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The fences come down today. The public unveiling is 1 p.m.-3 p.m. Feb. 10, courtesy of the Pease Park Conservancy.

“We wanted to make a cathedral,” Dougherty says. “We got five corners instead.”

The $106,000 project made from 10 tons of locally harvested then bent, woven and fastened Texas ash, elm, ligustrum and depression willow were built in three weeks by Dougherty and his son, Sam, along with volunteers and staff from Houston’s Weingarten Art Group. The site off Parkway not far from Windsor Road was picked because of accessibility and parking, but it’s also a little sheltered and not clearly visible from North Lamar Boulevard.

Volunteer Carol Burton helps to intertwine tree saplings into an inner wall of a the sculpture is made entirely out of tree saplings and is made possible by the Pease Park Conservancy which is committed to enhancing the cultural environment of the park. RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Dougherty, who has built 288 of these StickWork projects around the world after working on a family cabin, had always wanted to work in Austin. He says the still-unnamed group of five structures should last two years before they begin to deteriorate seriously.

The Conservancy will maintain the art, then, with the help mulch the remains to spread around the park.

READ EXPANDED STORY ON OUR PREMIUM PAGE.

Update: An earlier version of this post said the project cost more.

Help build a cool Patrick Dougherty sculpture in Pease Park

What a rush: Pease Park Conservancy has put out a call for volunteers to help build a major sculpture in the park in January 2018.

Patrick Dougherty’s “Easy Rider” (2010). Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C. Contributed by Andy Lynch

Designed by renowned artist Patrick Dougherty, this will be the latest Stickwork, a series of over 275 distinct sculptures around the world.

According to a Pease Park communiqué, it will take about three weeks to build the site-specific piece – comprised entirely of locally harvested saplings – which is intentionally built for the community by the community.

“Volunteers are needed for single day shifts, although if the project really gels with the right person they are welcome to help out for longer,” says spokesman Mason Kerwick. “Since Patrick will be on site every day guiding the shape of the piece, this is the perfect opportunity for anyone curious to learn more about the artistic process of an internationally renowned artist – while also spending time outdoors, enjoying the sunshine and nature in one of Austin’s oldest park.

Once complete, the sculpture will remain on display in Pease Park for a few years.