Although there’s no shortage of art on Whidbey Island, the public will get a glimpse into the inner workings of a prolific sculptor who has done most of his work behind a closed gate.
The Cloudstone Sculpture Park will be open to the public for tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 4 and 5.
Until recently, Hank Nelson was the sole curator of Cloudstone Sculpture Park, a sprawling 20 acres near Freeland dedicated to his carvings in stone and metal, as well as large-scale installations he made from repurposed materials such as oil barrels, pipes, rebar and concrete chunks.
The park contains over 450 pieces by Nelson, the majority of which were created since 1996, three years after Nelson bought and prepped the South Whidbey land for the population of his art.
The park has been evolving from Nelson’s workplace to a place where guests can learn more about the sculptures.
About two years ago, the Cloudstone Foundation was formed to carry out Nelson’s vision of appreciation for three-dimensional art. The foundation also has an educational component — workshops are starting to be offered in the available studio space on the property.
“Our responsibility is to protect the future and legacy of Hank’s work and property but principally right now just to kind of share the enjoyment and the education of three-dimensional art, which is what Hank obviously does in spades out here,” said Burt Beusch, the executive director of the foundation.
A walk through the park reveals many towering — and heavy — sculptures, nearly indescribable in their contemporary forms.
“Hank doesn’t want to influence anyone’s thinking as far as what they’re seeing,” Beusch said. “So if you look at that and see a leaping salmon, Hank thinks that’s great because that’s what you see and that’s what you feel when you look at that piece.”
Nelson has avoided naming most of his work for this reason, although some of his larger scale installations, which also double as social statements, do bear titles, such as “Rivers No More,” “Board of Human Rights” and “Dependence.”
“Who knows how he arrives at some of the things he comes up with?” Beusch said.
Apart from a stint with a master stone carver in Italy and some experimentation at the University of Washington iron foundry, Nelson is self-taught. The octogenarian currently focuses his creative energy on smaller pieces, such as bronze castings and colorful geometric sketches.
“His work is much lighter and much smaller, but the important thing is, as much as he is winding down in his career, his mind is still brilliant and he’s still very creative,” Beusch said.
Visitors to the park might recognize the stone sculpture “Medjay,” which was recently cast in bronze as part of a rotating sculpture program in Langley. Its bronze counterpart is currently on a pedestal outside of the Langley Post Office.
During the park’s upcoming “open house,” guests will be able to go on tours, watch live demonstrations by other artists and might even get to chat with Nelson himself.
“He’s got a great mind and I think that he is world-class talented, but by way of his very personality, he’s pretty shy and introverted and doesn’t make much of himself at all,” Beusch said, “but I don’t think there’s any reason much of his work couldn’t rest in any museum or gallery around the planet.”
Nelson is currently helping to direct the progress of a new sculpture installation on the property. It includes several large tube casings, big enough for a truck to drive under. When completed, Beusch said it’s likely it may be the largest casings project in the country.
“Truthfully, he really was a late bloomer,” Beusch said. “It’s really just a remarkable story about a guy who’s fully committed his life to creating this work as well as creating Cloudstone Sculpture Park.”
Besides the two days of the year that the park is open to the public, sightseers can also schedule a private tour for another day.
For this weekend’s event, the entrance fee is $10 per person. Children under the age of 12 can enter for free. Dogs are allowed, but must be leashed, well-behaved, and owner-attended.