Capturing the Spirit of the Carolinas
03 Mar 2021
An art installation made to elevate the ILM Airport terminal
By KIM HENRY » Photos by ANDREW SHERMAN
Being in the right place at the right time seems to feature in the journey of many artists as they navigate their way from being students, to paying the bills, to becoming full time artists. This often involves inspired vision, ironclad determination and on occasion, the perfect meeting of minds. So is the tale of Hall and Hill, whose passion for metal fabrication and abstract sculptures have just landed the creative partnership for one of the largest public art commissions Wilmington has had to offer in many years.
Greg Hall grew up welding in his father’s metal fabrication shop, surrounded by farm equipment and machinery. Gaining a strong skill set foundation from his father, Hall went on to study a wide range of art modules in high school, including ceramics. Returning to his first love of metal and woodwork, Hall attended UNCW as a sculpture major, which is how he met the person who would become his mentor. While in class one day, Halls’ professor announced that local metal artist, Paul Hill, was looking for an assistant and handed out Hill’s phone number with instructions not to make the call during class time. Hall immediately excused himself, rang the number and secured the job, a lifelong friend and creative partner.
Fast track over a decade later, and their latest collaboration is so exciting that it brought Hill out of retirement. The arts council put out a call for an art instillation for the new ILM terminal expansion that is due to be completed in November of this year, that would ‘capture the spirit of coastal North Carolina.’ Further stipulations in the brief included not blocking the panoramic window view surrounding the allotted instillation space, or hindering the easy flow of travelers as they move through the airport.
“This left me in a pickle when trying to come with an idea,” laughs Hall. “Until I was driving around Wilmington one day, admiring our local flora and fauna, when it hit me - oak trees!” Iconic to the area, Hall realized that a huge laurel oak sculpture would take up an impressive amount of space with its height and branches, while only requiring the diameter of a tree trunk at ground level, perfectly fulfilling the prerequisite to not impede the airport flow of foot traffic or the exterior view. Needless to say, he got the commission and enticed Hill into working on one more project together. The team is drawing upon their structural engineering and artistic backgrounds to build the 20-foot tall, and up to 30-foot wide metal tree. It’ll have an astonishing 7,000 slightly enlarged leaves that will be individually flamed-treated to reveal unique color qualities of blues, purples and pinks on each and every leaf.
The sculpture will take around nine months to complete and will be moved in at least 30 separate pieces consisting of steel rod frames, covered in sheet metal, with each enormous branch (up to 15 feet long) being attached on-site. “The oaks are one of the most beautiful features that we have in the area and we’re excited to represent it on such a large scale,” shares Hall from their newly acquired workshop space. A project of this magnitude requires both a lot of expensive equipment (welding torches, metal cutters, folding machines that allow sheet metal to be molded into certain shapes) and space.
Prior to this commission, Hall’s studio in The ArtWorks building was sufficient for a majority of his work. Hall is the longest standing artist at this historic building, which is home to over 50 local artists. “In 2013 it was just a huge, dusty warehouse but now it’s a buzzing artists village,” says Hall. Aside from this exciting project, Hall predominately works with reclaimed wood and metal, focusing on his own ideas and commissions for both aesthetically pleasing and functional creations.
The twists and turns that empower an artist to become just that - a full time artist, is always an interesting journey to hear about. Hall made the leap around two years ago, leaving his well-paid project manager landscaping job as it inevitably began to eat into his studio time. Some of Hall’s impressive creations can be seen around Wilmington, including his metal Venus flytrap bike rack at the Flytrap Brewing. Preferring to leave his work unnamed, this profoundly talented artist is not one for tooting his own horn, or spending too much time playing the social media game to promote his work. Instead, you will find him salvaging random objects and using reclaimed materials to bring the endless stream of his unique ideas into the world. Well, when he’s not building a 20 foot metal tree with 7,000 leaves. “You’ve got to just keep making art or definitely won’t be an artist,” smiles Hall.