The Mythology of Roy Kanwit’s Taconic Sculpture Park
Sculptor Roy Kanwit
The Taconic Sculpture Park reverberates with great mythical energy. Here, where the land meets the sky, great stone monuments to mother earth, the Titans, and all manner of ancient gods, goddesses and icons still live. You’ve probably seen it driving past Chatham on the Taconic Parkway. You know — that nearly 20-foot head of Gaea peering over the valley below.
For 36 years, self-taught sculptor Roy Kanwit has turned his Spencertown, New York hilltop overlooking the parkway into one of the true hidden gems of our region. The park is the front yard of Kanwit’s home, a stone castle he constructed over the years and where lives in with his wife, Mary DeBay.
“I have always been drawn to the connection between earth and sky,” he says. “I like working with stone because it’s a part of the earth and this is how people have been making sculptures about these topics since the beginning.”
The sculptures blend perfectly with the landscape and the sweeping, nearly 360-degree views of the surrounding hills. In truth, this is also a showroom of work for sale made of marble, stone and cement. If you are so moved by a piece, large or small, you can take it home with you.
“I liked people coming and looking at the sculpture and perhaps buying something,” says Kanwit. “The big head on top of the hill is sort of an advertisement. I could have put up a sign but I think the head made a more attractive way to do that.”
While his interest in mythology, the connection between earth and humans, and the power of female energy has remained constant throughout his career, he says that as he’s aged, his work reflects the different phases of life. Still, there is a youthful whimsicality to much of his work. Castles dotted with small fantasy toys and a big smiling dragon make one supremely envious of Kanwit’s grandkids.
Kanwit says he’s happy for different people to take different things away from their visit to his property. He recently was surprised when, on the weekend of Brett Kavanaugh's controversial appointment to the Supreme Court, many women came to wander among the sculptures looking for answers, or just a sense of calm.
“We got a lot of visitors who were visibly upset and they found this place very consoling,” he says, noting DeBay went out and spent time talking with the women who came that day. “Some of them were actually in tears and felt this was a refuge from what they felt was going on around them. It made us feel better. It made them feel better. That’s not exactly what I set out to do but I did want to give people a place where they felt at home in nature and where the sculptures add to that feeling.”
Kanwit admits he leads a pretty quiet and reclusive life on his mountaintop and the specter of human development and climate change can seem distant here. But it’s immediately apparent for those of us coming from out in the world, choking on the current state of reality, that this mythical garden he’s built is special and affecting in a meaningful and lasting way.
The power of the Taconic Sculpture Park is difficult to fully express in words. If you’ve been there you already know. If you haven’t, go.
Taconic Sculpture Park
At the end of Stever Hill Rd., off of Route 203, Spencertown, N.Y.
Open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., hours subject to change. (If you're coming from far away, calling ahead is suggested.)
$10 per car.
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