At their home/studio in Chilmark on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, folk artist, Bill O’Callaghan and his wife, potter and tile maker Heather Goff, have created a magical sculpture trail.
The sculpture trail meanders through the Chilmark woods. Bill’s mixed media and clay pieces represent Tree Spirits, Earth Guardians, and Fae musicians. They come to life under the leafy canopy, and his driftwood furniture is paired with sculptures to create enchanted settings tucked amidst the under-story.
Heather’s clay masks and sculpted eyes peer from the trees, bringing the woods to life.
The wooded sculpture trail is open to the public from 9 am – 5 pm, May – November. (It is closed in the winter for maintenance.) Parking is across the street. Come visit their pottery shop as well!
Something Wonderful in the Woods
When an artist creates in collaboration with the spirit of his location, something magical is born. Such is the case with folk artist Bill O’Callaghan and the mystical sculpture trail that he and his wife, Heather Goff, have created in the woods of Chilmark, Massachusetts.
In 1960 Bill was born into a gritty working-class neighborhood in Cork, Ireland, one of 11 siblings. He remembers, as a child, reading fantasy for hours by their fire, escaping the pervasive outlook of poverty and toil. In his 20s, he came to the island of Martha’s Vineyard, off the USA’s east coast. He worked as a mason and carpenter, and then briefly at a local pottery where his inner artist awoke. It wasn’t until his hands touched clay, and he was surrounded by other artisans that he permitted himself to dream of being an artist. Driven by his new need to create and an extraordinary vision, O’Callaghan applied all of his acquired skills into developing fanciful creations. His art is inspired by natural materials that he finds on the island shores, and a rich imagination fueled by the Irish folklore that he grew up with. Throughout the decades, his castles and life-size musicians started appearing in various public spaces around the island, but never as a cohesive body of work.
It wasn’t until moving to his current home in 2018 that Bill found a tract of land that matched the wild soul expressed in his sculptures. A synergy sprang up between the artist and the woods, and earth guardians and tree spirits joined his repertoire. He and Heather created Island Folk Pottery to blend both of their talents and together started building a sculpture trail for the public to experience Bill’s complete works in context.
The Island Folk Pottery Sculpture Trail opened in July 2020. It meanders a half-mile through the woods. If you look closely, you might spy stone fairy houses tucked into the foliage, or Tuatha De Dan Ann perched on branches and nooks playing lutes, fiddles, uilleann pipes, and the bodhran. Dragons and castles abound. Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his trusty hound stride across a glade. Bill also pairs his driftwood furniture with sculptures to create enchanted settings tucked amidst the understory. Heather’s clay masks and sculpted eyes peer from the trees, bringing the woods to life, and her written verse supplements Bill’s visual installations.
Alongside the characters from myth are other creatures peering at passersby, eyes brimming with the wild spirit of the woods itself: the earth guardians, the circle of sentinels, the dancing tree spirits. It’s as if the soul of the land speaks to the artist in his dreams, and when he wakes, new creations come forth.
They invite you to come walk their trail and suspend reality.