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By  Peggy Tully Cornell University Library October 15, 2021

Inspired by the geomorphology of the Finger Lakes region, June B. W. Szabo’s exhibit “Landscape Sculptures: Conversations with Land and Water” features wood-and-copper sculptures exploring themes of loss, the temporal nature of place, and decay as a means of renewal. The exhibit runs through January 2022 at Cornell University’s Mann Library gallery.

“The thought that has guided me for this installation is that of letting go,” Szabo said. “There is much in all our lives that we have little control over, which can be a source of anxiety and a sense of loss.”

A lifelong resident of the Finger Lakes region, Szabo has been creating sculptures through an elaborate process: She physically explores local landscapes while also consulting highly detailed relief maps and researching the geomorphology of each location. In her studio, she then gives shape to these experiences by manipulating beads, copper wire, and local hardwoods.

“Working wood and wire to reflect on how land is built up as it’s worn down over time, how decomposition in fungi and plants leads to new growth – for me this work has been a lesson in what we gain by letting go,” she added.

Made by wrapping and coiling copper wire, her sculpture “Let Go to Grow,” for example, explores how the renewal seen in spring and summer landscapes depends on the loss and decay that occur each fall and winter. Inspired by trees that have the power to “let go” of their own leaves in any season as a defense against stressors and as a means of renewal, this work proposes that letting go of fear and being open to nature’s law of return makes room for growth. 

In “Restoration,” a hanging sculpture carved from poplar, Szabo references a moraine – an intriguing landform built by a thick accumulation of glacial drift transformed by wind and time into a forested expanse – which serves as a powerful metaphor for recovery and restoration.

Reflecting on the influences that have shaped her work, Szabo cites many Cornell scholars, including beloved geology professors O. D. Von Engeln and Arthur Bloom, whose books detailing the geography and glacial history of the Finger Lakes region have accompanied her throughout her journeys. 

Szabo will also be participating in the Fall 2021 Exhibit Expo at Mann Library, October 29, 2021, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Visitors are invited to come meet the artist and learn a little more about the techniques and inspiration behind her woodworking and weaving artistry. View the event listing for more details.