A countryside lane breaks from the road, turning off toward a sloping farm field.
These meadows are private, cut and tedded and baled in season for centuries.
But a new hiking trail will open here on Sept. 27, providing passage around fields of sculpted wood, iron and stone.
The Art Farm Trail is already cut and marked. Its pathway laid carefully around hills that framed Crooked Brook ages ago.
It weaves a one mile, onelane path through art outcroppings created by Westport artist Ted Cornell, who offers sequel to farm stories and found objects.
Walking in hay rows past works of art at Cornell’s farm, only crickets belie the silence his sculptures keep.
The soft susurrus of wind sometimes carries the long, drowsy twang of a locust over the meadow. The brook burbles idly in its dry season. Geese trumpet from their late summer flight paths overhead.
“For me, I love junk and always have. I remember as a boy finding something in the grass and wondering where it came from and how it got that way,” Cornell said.
“Junk has memory and junk suggests possibilities. I love it because it awakens unknown futures. I love it because it talks to us about our common origins, how we all come
from a long line of junk.
“Our very sun is a junk star, made of the debris of earlier stars.”
RECOLLECTING FARM INDUSTRY
Some 20 sculptures conjure new shapes from a few tons of found farm debris: a McCormick Deering reaperbinder, a grain chute, cart wheels, tractor parts, rubber hoses, old glass, plowshares and stone piles.
They are planted strategically on meadow flats around the coiled brook and manmade pond, which was the first installation. The art grows weathered against a mountain fringe of dark forest.
The pieces have seasonal queues for entrance and exit, Cornell explains.
Sometimes deep snow eases their sharp angles. Rampant swaths of wildflowers draw new horizon lines around them in spring and summer. Sometimes the setting sun paints them in vivid hues of red and blue.
Here, an oblique box interprets “Boyhood” with, among its dangling parts, a grain chute, an iron seed box, a blue circle of glass.
There, "The Angel of Inerrancy (Conveying WellMeaning Souls to Hell)" raises a halo of hose and metal hands above a glass pitcher. A marble doorknob affixed to its tractor torso offers entrance.
“One of the thematic elements of the Art Farm and those statues is respect for the previous culture,” Cornell said. “Many of those rusting objects are remnants that I appreciate as older culture. And it’s a high engineering culture."
The sculptures suggest stories of purpose: of the people who left them a hundred or more years ago; of an artist's view; of neighbors and friends who helped install each piece; of those who come to see them.
On a meadow flat, the threestory "Memory Tree" points a soaring section of rusted culvert toward the sky.
Cornell found it sliced open for some unexplained reason, left to sink in sod and rot.
Fraught and fragile with a lace of rust at its seams, he gilded the culvert’s slice in gold leaf.
Then he upended it.
“From here, the pipe provides a vertical opening to space. It recognizes a quantum reality called ‘super position,’ which allows that an object can be in more than one place at a time and still be the same thing,” he said.
“The theory goes on to reveal that there are places we can never go — places moving greater than the speed of light, so that we can never catch up,” he said — which isn’t much different than a farmer's Sisyphean task trying to catch up with seasons.
HOMAGE TO HERITAGE
Cornell moved here from the city about 25 years ago. In addition to his paintings, sculpture and work in theater, he has since reinvigorated the Wadhams Free Library, incited and founded the Whallonsburg Grange restoration, and spearheaded the Town of Essex Zoning Ordinance. He has served on the boards of the Depot Theatre and the Boquet River Association.
He draws from the rich heritage here in conjuring new from the old.
“Part of my respect comes from my relationship with Harold Sayre, who farmed around here his whole life," Cornell said.
“When I arrived, there he was in his 80s. We spent an enormous amount of time talking and talking. He told me a lot about living on the farm. There was a deep sophistication of its own kind, intellectually and engineeringwise."
Among sculptures at the Art Farm sits a gangling, old McCormick Deering reaperbinder in its latest act as art. It was once a machine four or five people could operate, either by horse or by tractor.
The reaperbinder could do the work of 20 people, Cornell relayed of Sayre's stories.
“It was the main farming tool not lost to us until the combine came in."
On this land off Sayre Road, pressed as it is against the acres where Westport, Lewis and Essex town boundaries meet, Cornell fit his painting studio inside the farmhouse around a woodstove.
His outdoor work moves between the barn, a tool bench, a pavilion staging area and the fields.
He literally digs much of the metal parts he uses from the ground. It sprouts sometimes on its own, pushed up by frost or washed out of mud in the spring flood.
Each part presents a piece of the whole story, composing what Cornell believes is a shared event — which is why he approached Champlain Area Trails, based in Westport and known locally as CATS, about adding an Art Farm Trail to their system in eastern Essex County.
While many CATS hiking trails protect wildlife connectivity from fields to wilderness, this one interprets farming through a sculptor's eye and handiwork.
CATS, Cornell says, with its system of land trust provision and rightsofway on private property, is changing the human concept of connectivity and ownership.
It is finding common ground and connecting it.
“There can be rightsofway without giving up your ownership. One of the things I admire so much about CATS is how they carry out that mission. It comes as a twopage agreement: a well conceived document. It’s probably CATS founder Chris Maron that gets the credit for this.”
It adds a landuse layer he thinks of as “Performance Zoning.”
“I also admire how CATS accepts responsibility for both economic and community development. The facts of hard boundary lines and ownership blend into a series of trails that connects us.”
They connect a walk through the Art Farm to a village bakery and cafe.
In this way, Cornell says, varied parts of community are clearly strung together as a whole.
Rights-of-way cross zoning boundaries, finding an important way to connect rural community, Cornell said.
“You don’t try to zone for each and every event. You can only do what doesn’t unreasonably ruin somebody else’s right to use their land,” he said. “In fact, a wellzoned place created for the benefit of its people actually increases the value of land.”
The new Art Farm Trail is about 1.5 miles round trip, according to Gail Testa, operations and development manager at Champlain Area Trails.
“The idea of CATS was started in the way of thinking about trail systems in Great Britain. They’ve had permission to walk across people’s properties for generations: it’s just understood," she said.
“By connecting our trails, we still have to be able to cross people’s properties, and we do that through rights-of-way. Some of it is done on state land, and sometimes it is done
on back roads.
“In Ted’s case, he came to us and made the suggestion. He liked what we did and wanted to have a trail on his property.”
Work on the Art Trail began this summer and was completed by the end of August. Markers with a CATS paw line the route.
There is parking near Cornell's barn at the Sayre Road trailhead. From there, the walking path goes through the artwork, over Crooked Brook to the high field and into the woods.
"It connects to the Field and Forest Trail, which goes another 2.7 miles right into Wadhams,” Testa said.
The Art Farm Trail officially opens on Sept. 27 with two rounds of guided hikes planned that day.Email Kim Smith Dedam: firstname.lastname@example.org
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Art Farm Trail Opening. Guided hikes led by a CATS representative, Tour of Farm and Art will be led by owner and WHAT artist Ted Cornell.
WHEN: Sept. 27. Guided hikes at 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.; visitors are welcome to hike the trail at anytime during the day.
WHERE: The Art Farm Trail, Wadhams, 154 Sayre Road.
TO FIND ART FARM TRAIL AND CATS MAPS
Read more about Cornell’s Art Farm online at https://www.crookedbrookstudios.com.
CATS trail system is mapped online at https://www.champlainareatrails.com.
CATS offers a series of interpretive hikes in all seasons. Most include an outdoor education aspect.
UPCOMING CATS EVENTS
- Oct. 11 — Pond Sprint (13mile run or 4.25mile hike to benefit CATS Long Pond Program.
- Oct. 11 — Penfield Museum Apple Folk Fest.
- Oct. 17 — DaCy Meadow Farm Trail Hike & Harvest Lunch (lunch provided by DaCy Meadow Farm).
- Oct. 24 — Owl Prowl with teacher/naturalist Gregg Van Duessen.
Champlain Area Trails is also planning a series of fullmoon hikes this winter, with snowshoeing events and more Owl Prowls. Many trails are accessible in winter by snowshoes or crosscountry skis.