BROKEN ART, BUT BUOYANT HEART
Posted: Monday, September 26 at 12:49 am CT by Bob Sullivan
BEAUMONT, Texas -- A life's work. A day's destruction. They all come together in David Cargill’s back yard.
"I guess you could say you've never seen a garden like this," says David Cargill as he welcomes us into his Beaumont, Texas garden. Instead of roses and tulips, Cargill's yard is blooming with bronze statues. Wandering through his front gate, this feels like a magical place, and we are instantly surrounded by mammoth creatues that somehow still seem gentle.
David Cargill's art stands in the Chapel of St. Basil and the University of St. Thomas in Houston. There’s even a driving tour of his many sculptures that grace a dozen public buildings in Beaumont, Texas. Last winter, he and his daughter had a major exhibit at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas. But when his work isn't being exhibited, much of it lives outside in his garden, in this Disneyland for sculpture fans.
Cargill does much of his work in bronze. Some of it, like "Where Do Babies Come From?" looms well above visitors at 10 or 12 feet. There are about 100 or so enormous pieces outside, and hundreds of smaller works inside his home.
But on Friday, Hurricane Rita violated this sanctuary. Now, much of his life’s work lies strewn about his backyard. There were trees that toppled all around Beaumont; about a dozen of them fell in Cargill's yard, tipping and at times smashing his handiwork. Don’t tell people in this town that Hurricane Rita was a near-miss.
"Some of these pieces I started back in the 1960s," he says, climbing over a pine tree that now cuts his back yard in half.
"Where do Babies Come From?", a woman holding a baby she's apparently just pulled from a seashell, weathered the storm. "But Woman on a Fish" did not; it's in three pieces. So is a sarcastic piece depicting a buzzard on the wing holding a credit card in its beak. It's called the "First National Buzzard." The buzzard is broken at the legs. Cargill finds the feet after digging under a pile of broken branches.
"I would have never dreamed that this tree would have fallen," he says, looking at what he thinks is the oldest pine in his yard, perhaps well over 100 years old.
Rita has brought Cargill other problems. He counts on air conditioning to keep his wax pieces cold enough to hold their form. Now, in the sweltering heat, they are in danger of melting. In one last piece of unfairness to this man and this community, Rita's goodbye gift, after the winds die down, is a sudden heat wave -- hot air scooped up from the warm Gulf of Mexico and deposited here -- that brings temperatures to over 100 degrees. It’s hot, sweaty weather to begin a hurricane cleanup. And it’s very unhealthy for wax sculpture.
It might seem enough to break the heart of a 76-year-old man.
But Cargill, who seems 76 going on 50, is one of those people who appears to glow just a bit, who seems to know something the rest of us don't. He proves that by deftly scaling the trees strewn about his yard. And as he surveys the damage, he sounds almost optimistic.
"There are really not many damaged," he says. Sculptors often see things the rest of us don’t. He'll probably just fix what's broken. "I've had things break before....You just keep going."
And right in character, he's most upset about sculptures he has not yet built. He figures two pieces that were recently commissioned -- one planned for the city library -- will now not be needed, as the city has other priorities in the aftermath of Rita.
Most of Cargill's art is about family, including many pieces of parents tenderly caressing their children -- or kids climbing all over their parents.
His favorite is a marble inspired by the image of the Virgin Mary. And in the middle of the yard is a bronze of two parents and two children engaged in a tight group hug. It was inspired by a famous Life magazine photo taken by Horst Faas, depicting a family emerging from a bunker during a war, the morning after surviving a bombing attack.
"This family came out of a hole in the ground and looked terribly afraid," he said. The metaphor to today, as people in Beaumont emerge to inspect the damage to their lives, is too obvious to miss.
Cargill sees Katrina and Rita as one event, and as he looks at his yard, he muses aloud about leaving it as it is.
"I view it as a memorial, for all the stuff that's happened in the past few weeks," he says. But then, he tells us his next step is to get someone to cut down the tree leaning on his art studio; and then, to begin fixing up his garden.
'DODGED A BULLET'? NOT HERE