AE Associate Director Kathryn Wagner Serves as Jurist for 33rd Annual Sculpture in the Garden at NCBG

Since 1988, Sculpture in the Garden has united the work of local artists with the native plant landscapes of the North Carolina Botanical Garden. Together, they invite you to experience art, the natural world, and the relationship between the two in a new way. In 2021, our own Kathryn Wagner was asked to serve as jurist and select this year’s award winners for Best in Show and Honorable Mentions. 

Jurist Statement 
Kathryn Wagner, Associate Director, Arts Everywhere

“I must start by confessing that I haven’t felt much like myself over the past year or so. Maybe you can relate? Between navigating life transitions, the 24-hour news cycle, the renewed and overdue call for reform around social justice and equity, and the grief and loss around the ongoing pandemic, things feel heavy. So it is with profound gratitude that I thank the NCBG for this opportunity to do something—even for an afternoon—that is so filled with delight, joy, and inspiration. Pondering beautiful and sometimes whimsical art while meandering through meticulously cared-for gardens has provided a deeper insight into the local creative community and reminded me again just how essential art is. Witnessing these sculptures has in a way revived my heart.

To the artists in this year’s collection: my proverbial hat is off to you. Thank you so much for sharing your creativity and passion, and for putting yourselves out there with the submission of your work into this year’s exhibition. As an artist (musician) myself, I know what it feels like to put your heart into something meant for public consumption and, in this case, judgment. I wanted to honor your fearlessness by sharing a few thoughts on how I approach producing and consuming art.

When I was in graduate school studying classical voice, I had many brilliant professors, but two in particular who taught seminars in German and French song literature. I like to think that a lot of how I approach a piece of art—be it music, poetry, or, in this case, sculpture—is because of what I learned from them and their approach to interpreting a piece of music. To look for structure and form, but then to notice when and why that framework is disrupted. To be curious about how two things from seemingly different worlds can create a glorious ensemble, maybe even taking a closer look at how they inform the other through their togetherness. To read the whole score—what’s literally on the page, what the composer’s historical framework might be, what the lyrics or poetry mean, and how the melody and dynamics align with the poem’s emotional intent.

It is in the spirit of those ideas—ever mindful of the current successes and challenges we face as a society—that I approached my decisions. Your incredible works made reaching any sort of decision a welcome challenge, and I am pleased to recognize the following three works as Honorable Mentions: Ancient Growth (5), Galapagos Turtle (59), and Venus Flytrap (37).

For Best in Show, my congratulations and thanks to Michael Waller for Traveler (4). This piece embodied the fractured yet hopeful form many of us have felt in our bones this year. The “shower of sparks” ignited when casting the iron into a wooden mold—it requires such frenetic and patient care, and yet is a basic product of cause and effect (wood vs. hot iron = drama). These delicate explosions of metal are a miracle and have found their place of ‘serendipity amongst objection.’

I am grateful for all the artists represented in this exhibition and for artists of every medium and genre—who are bravely and constantly leading the way forward to a more innovative, empathetic, and inspired world.”