Amherst Markers – Sculpture by John Crawford


A sculpture commissioned as part of


“Imaging Peace: The Corliss Lamont Arts Project 1992-93”           Funded by the Corliss Lamont Lectureship for A Peaceful World

When the huge trunks of ash, oak, and maple that John Crawford was to use as the material for Amherst Markers were first lowered from the truck to his make-shift studio on the campus of Amherst College their power as potential form was immediate and clear. All during the summer of 1992 Crawford had crisscrossed New England looking for the most massive trees he could find. Most of the timber in New England is second growth  but these giant butt-logs waited in lumber yards and saw mills, too large and twisted with age to be made into products. Crawford’s selection of these trees began the making of Amherst Markers.


The forms that emerged through the autumn and winter were simple ones, measured and careful in their planes and masses, modest and calm in their presence. They gain posture from their blocky feet. The subtlety of their lean and cant gives them motion and a quiet humor. As the logs were hewn into five blocks their identity as trees was never quite lost. Most sculpture undergoes the magic of transformation as raw material becomes an image, shape or structure. In Markers, Crawford has allowed the material to become animate without erasing the wildness of its source.


Crawford cites several sources for the forms that interest him in this work. He has had a lifelong fascination with the megalithic formations of northern Europe; Stonehenge, the Dolmens, the Stone Circles of Carnac. These powerful places are made of minimally worked stones which stand, stack, and lean. Whether as observatories or sites of ritual they are places of use and Crawford has tried to invest Amherst Markers with a similar formal simplicity and character of purpose.


Another source for Crawford is the geometry of certain minerals such as the iron pyrite pictured here whose formation creates intricate and precise cubic intersections. These same types of intersections are present in Markers and much of the rest of Crawford’s sculpture. The structure of these crystals is a three dimensional example of growth patterns which can be described by fractals.


These disparate sources are tied together in Amherst Markers.

The megaliths suggest they may be tools for understanding the cosmos. For Crawford, fractal structures represent a less human-centered tool for understanding the order and shape of seemingly chaotic forces. By combining these two sources formally Crawford combines two views of the world. He writes ” We are each the center of a universe and at once periferal participants.”


As a site for the work Crawford chose a grove of white pines at the top of Memorial Hill. This place overlooks the Holyoke Range and is sheltered from the wind and sun by the spread of the great pines. The site is important not just in its beauty as a place to sit and listen but also in its proximity to the memorial on this hill to those graduates of Amherst College who died in the two World Wars. The blocks of the sculpture interact with the stones that nearby mark the memories of war.


Mr. Crawford has marked a place with his forms; a place to sit, remarkable for its invitation to contemplate notions of inner peace, its sense of shelter and its sense of animation.



Timothy J. Segar



Mr. Crawford wishes to thank Cole Scott of Northern Tree Service, Palmer Mass. and the students of Amherst College whose help made Amherst Markers possible.