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Landscape design students bring bamboo art – and a surfing chicken — to State Fair

The flower and gardens area of the N.C. State Fair is the go-to oasis for fairgoers seeking a break from the crowds, noise and food-based-on-a-dare. It is also the site of the latest creation of students in Prof. Will Hooker’s small-scale landscape design studio, recently the go-to source for bamboo sculptures that add whimsy to campus and community landscapes. Now the students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences horticultural science class have installed an attention-grabbing artistic centerpiece to the Model Gardens of the 2010 N.C. State Fair.

The bamboo sculpture called “Chicken of the Sea” is a piece intended to help animate the fair’s gardens, Hooker said. So riding high on “waves” of wind atop a colorful surfboard is a surfer-dude chicken, while a baby chick grasps the end of the board in his beak. Below, a boat carries a nest of colorful eggs, and one new hatchling reaches up plaintively to join the ride.

The bamboo sculpture includes a hatchling reaching from the 'floating' nest.

The project came about when Erv Evans, N.C. State consumer horticulturist who is in charge of the Model Gardens, suggested to Hooker that one of his classes do a piece for this year’s fair. “This ephemeral bamboo sculpture is intended as an exercise in my design studio to give the students a hands-on experience in the building process,” said Hooker. “My students in the landscape design option in horticultural science are in a design/build option, so building is a big part of what they’ll be doing.”

Hooker says the project illustrates that “any building project, from the simplest brick and board college book shelf to the high structure in Dubai all use essentially the same process; it simply is just more or less complex. In looking for ways to give my students such a building experience, I hit on using bamboo around 20 years ago, as it’s free and readily available. I’ve been building one ephemeral bamboo sculpture in every studio that I teach, in fall, spring and sometimes in the summer of each year.”

The sculpture swivels above visitors to the fair's flower and garden exhibits.

The participating students include Austin Clark, Becca Elish, Brandie Elliot, J.M. Henson, Spencer Inions, Andrew Jones, Melissa Martin, Stephen Panasci, Sarah Scott, Eric Templeton, and Darneka Waters, Hooker said. “The two teaching assistants that also helped are Rachel Wilson and Mary Archer. And we could not have done this project without the help of Brock Holtzclaw, the climber who was able to rig the lines up in the pine trees. Bill Cox, another student not in the class, also helped, as he has had experience working with Brock in the tree work that Brock does with his father’s arboriculture company.”

While Hooker had visions of designing a dragon suspended in air with a dragon’s egg down below in a nest, he said, “the students voted for a chicken suspended in the air, and one of them wanted to do a surfboard — so we combined the ideas.  We did decide to have a nest on the ground with the eggs and perhaps a chick in it. Another of the students was baffled by a nest associated with a surfing chicken, so I just suggested that we put the nest with the eggs in a boat.  So one of the groups of students made a bamboo boat.”

This bamboo sculpture is one of many campus and community installations that have been created by students in Hooker's landscape design studio.

The animation came about with Holtzclaw’s help; the builders put the chicken and the surfboard on a swivel, so that it spins on the swivel and does not twist the wires. Now, as the fair proceeds, Hooker said, “We think that it will be in motion and will be okay.  We’re crossing our fingers!”—Terri Leith