Among the many gifts Gary Dwyer ’62 gave to Colorado Academy was this—we do not have to wonder what he would think about the ways his three sculptures are embedded in the life of CA. We know the answer, because Dwyer, who died in August 2020, and his wife, Odile Ayral, came to CA in 2016 to see the campus and revisit his early works, 42 years after they were dedicated.
“He was so happy when we went to CA and saw that his work was still there, and that it had blossomed with more sculptures on campus,” says Ayral. “Having children on the sculptures was exactly what he wanted, because it makes them come alive.”
The original three sculptures
Today, the Sculpture Garden is such a fixture in the lives of CA students that it’s hard to imagine what the area looked like in 1969. Where some people would have seen a flat, barren field outside the old Hamilton Music Building, Dwyer saw potential. He approached former Head of School Chuck Froelicher with an idea. Dwyer would create three sculptures and design landscaping which featured the new works of art to fulfill his thesis requirements for an MFA at the University of Denver. (Dwyer earned his undergraduate degree in Landscape Architecture and Fine Arts from Syracuse University.)
The sculptures, created 50 years ago in 1969-1970, illustrated what Dwyer considered the three elements of the educational process: search, connection, and solidification. Search conveys the aimless wandering associated with the quest for knowledge. “The piece,” Gary told Froelicher, “is stainless steel with three long curving piles that look like the branches of a tree—free, open-ended, wandering.”
Connection, a large black form much favored by CA students as a place to sit and enjoy a hot dog at the annual Back-to-School Picnic, signifies the connection in the educational process where the spark ignites direction. The final piece, Solidification, shows the final phase of learning where organization occurs.
The three works reflect Dwyer’s personal experience with the education he received at CA. “He loved the place,” says Ayral. “He often talked about Alex Rode and his wife, Meredith, and how they introduced him to reading and literature. And he never stopped reading.”
‘It has to do with seeing’
Dwyer was a lifelong learner who, by his own confession, tried many careers to pay the bills so he could pursue art. He worked heavy construction, landscape architecture, city planning, and taught at universities. Eventually, discouraged by his experiences creating public sculptures which were often altered or even removed to make way for development, he turned his fulltime creative drive to photography.
In his long career, he photographed climbing expeditions in the Himalayas and World Heritage Sites in Vietnam. His work was exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Oakland Museum in California, and is in the collection of La Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris.
In a California Public Radio interview, he talked about his philosophy of photography. “One of the questions I am often asked is what kind of camera do you use,” he said. “It’s not about the camera. It has nothing to do with the camera. It has to do with seeing.”
‘Hoping for beauty’
Dwyer, who held dual citizenship from the U.S. and Ireland, had traveled the world—visiting at least 60 countries. But he had a particular affection for French culture. In 1994, he decided to learn the language and called a French teacher at California Polytechnic State University to ask if he could audit her course.
After two quarters sitting in the back of the room, he asked the teacher out on a date. They discovered they had a shared love for art, literature, and traveling the world. “I guess he decided he liked the French teacher better than the French language,” laughs Ayral. She and Gary would have celebrated their 25th anniversary in August. But of all the places they visited, their trip to CA remains a special one.
“I think coming back and seeing the sculptures was perhaps one of the highlights of his life,” Ayral says. “CA treated us like royalty.”
A lover of words since his days at CA, Dwyer composed his final words in the days before he died. Think of what he wrote the next time you see a student enjoying the three sculptures that are his legacy at CA.
“We are all holding on to the parts of the raft that are still floating and hoping for beauty yet in this storm.”