Floating on Community Spirit
- Bill MacIntosh
The newest addition to Chestertown’s waterfront, created by Vicco Von Voss ’91, draws upon and reflects the reinvigorated spirit of collaboration between the town and Washington College.
Woodcrafter and artist Vicco Von Voss ’91 is known for making wood flow like water, but his latest creation, unveiled at Chestertown’s RiverFest in September, brings the water into the dialogue of the art itself. Called “Sankalpa,” the 1,500-pound floating installation—funded by Washington College’s SANDBOX initiative—uses both upward and downward movement of the eye, as well as connecting archways, to tell the story of Chestertown’s aspirations toward becoming an even greater artistic community.
“The whole idea is of us as a community setting the intention that we want arts to flourish in this community,” says Von Voss, internationally known for his furniture, art, and woodworking. The piece, made primarily of paulownia wood, took Von Voss, his wife Jacquie, volunteers—including engineering support from Zane Carter and Ed Minch—and lighting, flotation, and structural experts 1,000 hours over eight weeks to create before it was launched into the Chester River. It was lit for the first time on the night of RiverFest, an inaugural event and new collaboration between the College’s Center for Environment & Society, Chestertown RiverArts, and SANDBOX.
“It’s a symbol of the direction Chestertown and the College are going in this collaborative mode,” says Alex Castro, director of SANDBOX and a lecturer in art at the College. “We had students working on it, townsfolk working on it, and it was a great collaboration.”
Von Voss credits Zane Carter with the original idea of a large installation on the Chester, after seeing “Waterfire,” a permanent art installation of over 80 floating wood-fired cauldrons on the three waterways in Providence, Rhode Island. Carter suggested an inaugural piece to Von Voss, who with his wife, Jacquie, developed the concept for Sankalpa. The name derives from a Sanskrit term composed of two roots: “san,” meaning “an idea formed in the heart,” and “kalpa,” meaning “a way of proceeding.”
“The name captures the sculpture’s dynamic movement and structural design and reflects the spirit of RiverFest as a celebration of inaugural events, initiative plans, and the expression of our community’s values and resources,” reads a description of the work. “The design symbolizes evolution and transformation through its directional movement and gateway passages…each spire represents the individual growing like a flower, reaching towards the light. This upward movement is made possible only through the downward ‘rooting’ or anchoring into the river bottom.”
Sankalpa is moored to the river bottom on three mushroom anchors, helping it withstand the forces of current and wind. Aglow after sunset with an array of LED lights, it is solar-powered. It will remain on the river until late October, after the town’s official celebration of the new state-designated Arts and Entertainment District on October 17.