A world of beauty in Wells

A world of beauty in Wells

There's a sculpture park in the town of Wells that is open for group tours by appointment. The Adirondack - Sacandaga River Sculpture Park features the work of internationally recognized sculptor John Van Alstine, on the grounds of a 19th century wood products mill.

John Van Alstine has sculptures installed all over the world. He is one of 50 artists whose work had been chosen to be on display at the 2008 Summer Olympics. His work, "Rings of Unity – Circles of Inclusion," is a large piece of stone suspended in the middle of a 16-foot ring made of bronze. These pieces are part of a whole series, (the picture above is one of them), based on Sisyphus from Greek mythology. This arrogant ruler's punishment in the underworld was to roll a boulder uphill, only to watch it roll back down again.

John Van Alstine with one of his works in the pavilion studio.

When viewing John's work, it's easy to see how much he likes rock. Granite, specifically.

Special spot

Eight acres along the banks of the historic Sacandaga River hold many of John's sculptures, placed so that the natural setting enhances the sculpture, and the sculpture adds to the nature.

A Van Alstine frame adds a fun layer to any landscape.

John was born and raised in the Adirondacks, but had gone to college, and taught, at various points in North America. Seeking to concentrate on his art, he left academia. This property, and the neglected lumber products buildings, spoke to him as both a home and a studio.

"I was fortunate to have my father help me get it back into shape," he said. "We not only got to spend some good time together, it's like he's still around the place."

The large interiors of the old lumber buildings are large enough for John's vision.

I was captivated by how easily I saw the sculptures fitting into the Adirondack scenery. They were abstract forms, but they had the contours of living things.

Special materials

John works primarily with granite and steel mediums in bold sizes. They seem suspended in the air, as though they were caught in the middle of movement. His themes include classical, nautical, celestial and, western mythological ideas.

This isn't a polished marble approach. He likes to leave the rock in a natural state.

Instead of chipping away at the material to reveal a figure or a shape, a method known as "subtraction," John uses the natural forms of the stone, and adds metal pieces to accent the concept he is trying to express. This is an assemblage method.

These are abstract pieces, though, with clear, easily understood shapes, as seen below in the hammer.

Here, a recent rain adds to the presence of the sculpture and the forest surroundings.

John is enthused and knowledgeable about the history of his property and the restored buildings, which date back to 1821, when the first lumber mill was built. The complex burned down and was rebuilt in 1866 and passed through many hands and purposes until restored to its present state.

The river which once flowed by full of logs now murmurs peacefully as it tumbles along the rocks. Dams that once raised the water level have been moved back to a more natural state.

On a flat rock in the center of the river, the Great Blue Heron in residence.John leads tours by appointment, and is also open for different events, such as the Adirondack Architectural Heritage tours, and the open house he and his wife and sculptor host once a year as part of the Sacandaga Valley Arts Network.

The work of John's wife, Caroline Ramersdorfer.

Caroline Ramersdorfer, his wife, works in marble, and visitors might be able to enjoy her works in progress, depending on timing.

Like all the Adirondacks, it is glorious in fall. Viewing the foliage with and around the sculptures is an extra scenic feast.

Autumn adds special loveliness and poignancy to a visit.

Free admission. Open to public by appointment only via phone 518-774-6641 or email: john@johnvanalstine.com. Free parking on site. Guided or self-guided tours available for individuals or groups, including audio guides, with reservation. See the listing on the museums and culture page.

Stay in a beautiful rental on the grounds with STUDIO C - Sculpture Park lodging, found on the Cabins & Cottages page.

Surround yourself with art and beauty. There's no better place for it than the Adirondacks.

Find a place to stay. Eat hearty with our dining. Discover more scenic tours.

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