FireTree / by Steve Groves

For those of you who know me, you know that my wife works at The Frick Pittsburgh in the curatorial department. As such, she gets to work with some awesome folks who are art handling specialists. One of those art handlers is Duncan MacDiarmid, a sculptor at heart. Last year, the Society of Sculptors (whose current President is Duncan) organized the first-ever SculptureFest, bringing together local sculptors for a day of public exhibition. The idea caught on, and last week, Sculpture Fest 2 took place at the Millvale Riverfront Park.

By the way, the Society of Sculptors has been around since 1935 and is the only organization in Pittsburgh exclusively promoting sculpture and the artists who create it, so if you’re reading this and you are a sculptor, make sure you check these guys out!

This year’s SculptureFest concluded with a grandiose sculpture fire, aptly dubbed “FireTree.” The idea was hatched by Duncan, along with Society of Sculptors member Saige Baxter, who soon moved on and followed other career opportunities. Throughout the rest of the year, Duncan built a large metal sculpture, destined to be filled with flammable content and fireworks. Yes, fireworks.

SculptureFest and FireTree were celebrations of life and all things good. At the top of the Firetree sculpture resided a metal “sun;” a reference to our own sun that provides heat and energy for the Earth and its residents. It was also a celebration of artistry and creativity. From the obvious—the sculptor-artists—to the musicians and even the attendees (anyone care to paint Duncan’s car?), the day was replete with something for everyone.

I attended Sculpture Fest, as well as the FireTree celebration, and below is my chronicle of the event, organized by subject.

About Duncan:

From Earthview Studios:

“All of them (his sculptures) show a mastery of technique elevated by the artist’s pervasive authenticity…” - Mary Thomas, Art Critic, The Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh, PA

Duncan’s childhood was spent in Philadelphia where he later studied architecture and then received his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Pennsylvania. For many years, Duncan worked primarily as a figurative sculptor with a focus on portrait sculpture. He has created public and private sculptures for libraries, churches, and universities in bronze, terracotta, and polymers. His recent work has ventured into mixed media with sculptures that comment on human perceptions of the natural and man-made environment. Duncan lives and works in Pittsburgh on a hillside overlooking the Allegheny River.

The Car

Duncan surrendered his car to be painted by attendees of SculptureFest. All ages provided “content” as his car gradually morphed from gray vehicle to vibrant canvas.

The Artists

Many sculptors showed up to exhibit their work, showcasing the variety of mediums by which sculptures can be represented.

The Music

Bridging the gap between the artist exhibition and the FireTree event was a band called Grand Prismatic. Bringing an instrumental component to the event, this band provided an obviously well-rehearsed and polished show.

Following their performance and continuing the artistry of the event, a group of African drummers took the baton and continued throughout the rest of the evening, providing improvised accompaniment to the FireTree event.

The Tree

A labor of love for the better part of a year, Duncan’s FireTree cornerstoned the evening with a celebration of life and art by fire.

The Aftermath

As with most events, I stayed until the bitter end, capturing the details of the aftermath of the event. The Millvale Fire Department was on hand to help put out any residual smolderings, and I do believe they may have just been having a bit of fun putting out fires that were non-life-threatening for a change. They even offered to “hose down” Duncan’s car so that he could safely drive it home. In the end, the event was a wonderful success, and I personally look forward to what may be in store for future years.