Walk Through Three Secluded Sculpture Gardens in Orange County

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View stunning sculptures en plein air at these garden galleries

Mike Roig and Clay Carmichael are husband-and-wife artists living and working in Carrboro. Mike, once a painter, now spends his time on sculpture, and Clay writes and illustrates children’s books. Photo by John Michael Simpson.

By Renee Ambroso

Artist Mike Roig’s work fills the wooded backyard of his home in Carrboro, where his sculptures temporarily reside until they find permanent homes or travel to exhibitions. Over the two-thirds of an acre, a few of Mike’s stainless steel sculptures whirl and spin as the breeze passes by – his kinetic designs are meant to be in motion. “There’s always a fair amount of engineering involved,” he says.

Mike’s garden showcases steel, his preferred material, in fluid shapes, polished to a glittering sheen. Many are silver, but Mike achieves a range of finishes from golden brown to deep bronze, even purple or blue tinges, by heating the material to varying degrees. For other pieces, he mixes pigments with a clear base or marine paints to ensure the colors stay vibrant even in the elements.

One sculpture, standing next to the workshop that Mike built himself, is part of a series that he’s been focused on through this summer. “I think of them as forms in motion,” he says. Some only need a week to take shape in the studio, while others need as many as three months, depending on size and complexity.

A large steel sculpture sits in front of Mike’s studio where he works daily. Photo by John Michael Simpson.

Beyond Carrboro, Mike’s work is on display publicly at locations including John Chavis Memorial Park and UNC REX Hospital in Raleigh, Georgia Tech in Atlanta and the Museum of Life and Science in Durham.

This fall, Mike’s studio and sculpture garden will be open to the public during the Orange County Artists Guild’s annual Open Studio Tour on Nov. 6-7 and 13-14. More than 60 artists allow the public into their studios and workshops during this event that began in 1995. At other times of the year, Mike and his wife, Clay Carmichael, welcome visitors by appointment to view the garden or discuss commissions and sales.

A child visits one of Tinka Jordy’s sculptures called “Hare” in her sculpture garden during Art in the Garden. Photo by Donn Young.
This high-fired stoneware clay figure titled “Safe” is representative of the highly textured and earthy appearance of much of Tinka’s work. Photo by Donn Young.

Placed across several grassy acres of Tinka Jordy’s garden, sculptures of molded clay, shining steel and stone are on display each year during the first two weekends of May. Art in the Garden began 27 years ago, when Tinka invited other sculptors to add their creations to the collection of her own work that had begun to sprawl across the 16-acre property, located just south of Hillsborough. Now, the annual exhibit draws about 10 artists, with around half hailing from Orange County.

“Everybody’s work is meant for the garden … It’s a very intimate setting,” Tinka says. Instead of viewing art against stark white gallery walls, “you can see what it would look like in your space,” she says.

A native of New Orleans, Tinka began working with clay as a potter but found herself designing pieces for the yard once she moved to her current home in the ’90s. “My work evolved with the garden,” she says. Her kiln and workshop sit seconds from her front door.

“I’ve always loved clay,” she explains. “Clay is such a natural thing to have outside. … It kind of emerges from the earth.” Tinka uses a strong, brick-based clay to withstand the wear of being outdoors without cracking or fading. Her highly textured sculptures avoid colored glazes and are instead coated in earth-colored slips.

Tinka’s sculptures can be viewed by appointment year-round, but other artists’ work arrives only for the show and takes about a week to install. In spring 2020, the show was canceled due to the pandemic, and guests were asked to sign up for a time slot to view the May 2021 exhibit. Tinka is hoping next year’s show, slated for May 7, 8 and 14, will mark a return to the traditional format.

A large sculpture that was on display during the 2020 show. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

It started with a 5-foot ceramic vase made by Carrboro artist Kathy Buck. “When exhibited indoors, [it] just looked horrible,” Kathy said in a 2008 interview with the North Carolina Botanical Garden about her work of art made twenty years earlier.

Recalling her art student days at UNC in 1988, Kathy said she envisioned an outdoor setting that would suit the scale and tone of her creation. Kathy’s husband, Ken Moore, who was then the assistant director of the garden, saw the opportunity to showcase art outside in a way that wasn’t offered elsewhere in the region. So that fall, Kathy invited 22 other artists to join her in exhibiting work at the garden. Sculpture could be catered to the space, some playing with the garden’s features such as the pond and trees, while others could utilize the garden to add another layer of meaning; Ken remembers a monument plastered with tobacco leaves that one artist pointedly placed in the Poisonous Plants Garden.

Several small floral sculptures from the 2020 Sculpture in the Garden exhibit. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

“The exhibit changes over time,” Ken said in 2008, when the show was celebrating its 20th anniversary. “The pieces themselves actually change,” he said, during the months of the show as the plants in the garden bloom, adding another dimension for viewers.

This year, the 33rd annual Sculpture in the Garden will feature work from Tinka Jordy and Mike Roig, Greensboro-based Jim Gallucci, Pittsboro artists Hamidou Sissoko and Forrest Greenslade, and Roberta Wood from Durham, among others. More than 35 artists will contribute sculptures of all sizes, materials and themes. Sculptures are nestled into the curated landscape of the garden, offering a view of art intertwined with nature. In September, installation of 50 to 60 sculptures will take about a week, with each piece needing anywhere from 10 minutes to a few hours to be settled in place within 12 acres of the garden’s grounds.

Sculpture in the Garden can be viewed from Sept. 12 to Dec. 5. 

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