little girl sitting in a giant birdcage

“The Door is Open,” a sculpture installation by Chris Boyd Taylor at the Huntsville Botanical Garden.

Courtesy Chris Boyd Taylor Studios

Chris Boyd Taylor, an associate professor of sculpture and art at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), part of The University of Alabama System, recently unveiled a sculpture installation at the Huntsville Botanical Garden.

Taylor’s artwork is titled, “The Door is Open,” and depicts a gigantic human-sized bird cage designed to explore a whimsical avian-centered theme for an exhibition this past fall called “Uncaged: Birds, Nature, & You.”

“The name was kind of inspired by my piece,” the artist says. “They needed some sort of bird-themed, kid-friendly loose idea of different kinds of bird houses.”

The Huntsville exhibition included a collection of interactive pieces that explored “the lives of our charismatic feathered friends.” The exhibit featured seven different structures spread throughout the Garden, providing guests of all ages an opportunity to discover and enjoy sculpture in a feathery dreamscape.

“We got a request for proposals looking for local artists,” Taylor says. “Our dean, Dr. Sean Lane, had given us a heads up about it, and was pretty instrumental in getting us thinking about the project. I submitted a couple of different proposals, both kind of bird cage based, anticipating one getting chosen, and it did.”

Taylor’s installation joined an imaginative menagerie of works that enabled visitors to sit down to a feast at a bird’s dining room table, examine a giant cuckoo clock, pretend to be soaring through the sky or awaiting gestation inside an enormous egg, among others.

From the start he had something in mind that would offer visitors the chance to experience his installation from quite an unusual perspective.

“Basically, the concept of the piece was a monumental sized bird cage so that people can then become the bird, sit on the perch, take pictures, with bells they can ring, a kind of planter to plant bird-inspired plants that birds would actually feed on,” the artist explains. “They did some landscaping around the piece that is really neat that kind of hugs it to keep kids from climbing on it. Cool to collaborate with them – really a public art piece that is meant to be experienced as opposed to looked at.”

Every piece supporting the “uncaged” motif was created by local artists and architects who partnered with the Botanical Garden to bring the fantastical vistas to life. Each structure was also accompanied by a guide highlighting what makes birds special and essential to our ecosystem.

A native of Columbus, Ohio, Taylor attended the Ohio State University where he studied sculpture. His studio practice comprises drawing, model-making and fabricating in wood, metal and ceramics, all of which he augments using computer technology.

chris taylor, associate professor of sculpture at uah

Chris Boyd Taylor, UAH Associate Professor, Sculpture and Art

Michael Mercier | UAH

Taylor received an MFA in Sculpture from the New York College of Ceramics at Alfred University, and has shown work at Socrates Sculpture Park in New York City and has a permanent sculpture installation in Montevideo, Uruguay.

“I grew up in a suburban household,” he says, when asked about his evolution as an artist. “We didn’t have a woodshop or anything in our house, didn’t really have a lot of opportunities until I got into high school to do some projects. I took a woodworking class and was part of a boy scout troop that made kayaks, really practical woodworking, not art based. It was not until my senior in high school that I took a couple of art classes. Always had an interest in drawing, but never thought of art as a career.”

After entering college his outlook on art expanded.

“At Ohio State, I started out as an architectural major. You can see some of that in my work. I took a sculpture studio class, and studied under [well-known public work artist and former Ohio State art professor] Malcolm Cochran. So, there was this immediate connection that art doesn’t have to be hidden in a galley, but can really be something that the public can enjoy on a long-term basis.”

Taylor’s path next led him to explore new possibilities for an artist in upstate New York.

“There is a route to becoming an artist. One route is to be a professor, so I chose sculpture as a major and spent night and day in the studio and really enjoyed the field. I went to Alfred University in upstate New York, kind of a quaint little art village, one stoplight, and that was enough! In that little town art is king, so they have a huge graduate program. Fridays and Saturday nights they hold a huge art exhibition that people go to rather than football. In both places I learned about public art and site-specific art and developed concepts based on content.”

The sculptor says from early on he learned to glean inspiration for his art from unusual sources. “I grew up watching This Old House and Yankee Workshop,” he notes. “Those were my Saturday morning cartoons! The art major was not a preplanned thing. I went into college knowing I was creative, wanted to do something outside of a cubical.”

When it comes to favorite mediums, Taylor prefers a process that blends the old with the new, the tactile with the technological.

“I’m a fabricator, so I’m generally fabricating things, which is different from casting an object,” he says. “I do a lot of welding, metal work and wood work. Those are the methods I tend to gravitate toward, generally. If it’s going to be outdoors, I do something out of metal. For indoors, something made out of wood. So, it’s dictated by the durability of metal outside, while wood is easy to break down into a kind of IKEA-like kit that I can take indoors. All of it is 3-D modelled, so there is very much this approach of taking drawings and then making the object.”

Taylor’s installation in Uruguay came about as part of an undergrad research and scholarship program at Ohio State.

“It was really independently driven, something like $4,000, and I made it go far,” he says. “I flew down to Uruguay, met with the chief architect, had this proposal, which was different from the original, playing around with some ideas. This is where a good concept can take a project forward.”

The experience was an unforgettable one that helped the artist build on the idea of conceptualizing the spirit of a place into a representative project.

“Uruguay is a very small country, 3. 5 million people, sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina. But they have held their own with a lot of things,” he explains. “A good example is soccer – two world cups, still a top ten world-ranked team, which is pretty amazing! The concept of the installation there is a tugboat sitting on one end of a long wall about four feet tall made out of blue glass mosaics with ripples in the top that look like water. The tugboat is like the symbol of Uruguay, the strong, little-engine-that-could philosophy, which parallels the Garra Charrua philosophy, which is a nod to the indigenous people who lived in Uruguay, with a tradition of being tough.”

Getting the work completed and the installation in place proved to be quite an undertaking, with the inspiration and fabrication of the piece coming closer to home.

“You build a wax version before you make a cast iron one,” the artist says. “I built it in my suburb, got it cast in Birmingham. Put it together, welded it, fabricated it, crated it up, flew down there to help get it installed. The personal side of this whole story is my wife is from Uruguay, and her father worked on a tugboat, so that is where the inspiration came from. They showed me this kind of wooden Popeye tugboat, and the design was loosely based on that.”

Chris Boyd Taylor maintains a personal website featuring dozens of pieces from his studio that he has created over the years.

“To make it in real life is the challenge,” he says. “All the sweat and tears that come into play!”