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Connecticut Sculptor David Hayes Transformed Steel Into Art

Sep 7, 2017

The late Connecticut sculptor David Hayes liked seeing his work out in the public space. He wanted people to be able to move in and around his large, abstract steel pieces and discover the art’s meaning for themselves.

One two-story sculpture by Hayes stands outside the downtown Hartford Public Library. There’s a collection of his work on the family property in Coventry, Connecticut.

And now several of his pieces can be seen by the public in the sculpture garden on the grounds of the governor’s mansion in Hartford.

The artist’s son, also David Hayes, said the large, vividly painted geometric steel forms are typical of his father’s work.

“My father liked the permanence of steel. Steel lasts,” he said. “And if it's painted and well maintained, the steel will last for decades and decades and decades.”

The sculptor died in 2013, but his children are busy year-round presenting their father’s work. David Hayes is his father’s curator.

“When he was a young man, he showed in the Museum of Modern Art,” Hayes said. “He also was in the inaugural exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum. He’s in most of the better regarded collections, Carnegie, Hirschhorn, Wadsworth Athenaeum, obviously. In his lifetime, I count perhaps 400 exhibitions.” 

The artist's son, also David Hayes, said the large, vividly painted geometric steel forms are typical of his father's work.
Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR

Sometimes the installations are inside museums, but often, trucks are loaded up with 20 or 30 pieces and set up outdoors in downtown urban areas, where people are buying groceries, going to and from work, or just hanging around.

Hayes said his father was committed to creating pieces that could live outside the static environment of a formal art institution.

“It's hard to get people to walk into a gallery, to walk into a museum, but if you put it into a public setting, where anybody can just walk around and like it or not like it, my father enjoyed that. That was an intellectually satisfying process for him,.” he said.

The governor's sculpture garden, with its temporary exhibition of the work of David Hayes, is open to the public by reservation.
Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR

The work is inspired by nature and influenced by artists Henri Matisse and Alexander Calder.

Joan Hurwit curates the Governor’s Sculpture Garden, and said Hayes was “one of the first unique welders in the state of Connecticut.” She called his art brilliant, “…because a lot of it is fun, but some of it connotes real meaning. And those totems as we call them are really significant, I think, of how America was founded.”

The sculpture garden is dedicated to the work of Connecticut artists. Not far from Hayes’s totem is a sculpted horse with elongated legs, a scrap metal piece created by Marcia Spivak.

A scrap metal piece created by Marcia Spivak in the sculpture garden at the governor's mansion.
Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR

Old Saybrook’s Mundy Hepburn is also represented, alongside Peter Kirkiles.

But all of these outdoor pieces must pay a price for their existence in the elements.

“Any kind of paint is going to degrade over time, whether it's house paint, car paint, or paint on a sculpture,” said David Hayes. “So we’re very careful about maintaining the work, and keeping the work on a fairly careful schedule for repainting, just to keep the sculptures looking good.”

The governor’s sculpture garden, with its temporary exhibition of the work of David Hayes, is open to the public by reservation.