Price Sculpture Forest welcomes “Vertebrae”

— Created April 20, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

There is yet another new sculpture to discover at Price Sculpture Forest in Coupeville.

“Vertebrae,” by Seattle-based sculptor Sarah Fetterman, becomes the 33rd piece to occupy a place in this living art gallery. The 20-foot-long steel and fabric creation was put in place over the weekend, suspended carefully among the trees of the old growth forest.

As its name implies, the inspiration for this work, which was previously displayed at Seattle Center, came from a once-living creature.

“The piece was conceptualized when I happened upon a section of elk vertebrae in the woods,” described Fetterman in response to questions from Whidbey Weekly. “The elk bones evoked the memory of the whole animal—not alive, but not fully gone. There was a beauty in the white bones against the underbrush, their abrupt beginning and end.

“I see the sculptural vertebrae as the body of the dream, never fully complete but never fully lost – a fragment of memory that alludes to the rest of a colossal backbone that existed in the past or perhaps only as an image of what might be, but has never fully materialized,” she continued. “The hollow framework of bones suggesting, but never having supported, a living body, suspending us between future and past.”

Fetterman, who often designs pieces which are integrated with a human model or dancer, said creating “Vertebrae” required learning some new skills. Since her ideas often come into her head as fully formed images with no gravitational, weight or structural restrictions, making them come to life can prove challenging.

“I often need to learn a new tool or way of making to be able to make the vision I have a reality,” she explained. “For this instance, I began to learn blacksmithing to get the specialized curves I wanted. I don’t think most people consider the engineering aspect when they look at or learn about art. I certainly didn’t in art school. When you are hired to do a project as an artist you are the imaginer, the fabricator, the engineer, and often the installer and the marketing team. I often make site-specific work and I do thoroughly enjoy the challenge of creating structures that have the structural integrity to last for years, while fitting the location and installation needs.”

Surprisingly, it wasn’t shaping the steel that was the most challenging aspect of this work for Fetterman. Rather, it was sewing the fabric on.

“I could stand inside the large one while I sewed the fabric on, so all the knots and ends would remain invisible,” she said. “But when I started on the little piece, I didn’t think about how the negative space of that sculpture, when made solid with fabric, wouldn’t actually leave room for a person inside of it. Hah, you learn something every time you make something new.

“I love that each new piece is a completely new learning curve and at the same time I get more and more familiar with how to make something that has never existed before,” Fetterman continued. “I love the engineering challenge of bringing a work from my imagination into reality. I love being a woman who can blacksmith and forge steel. I love the places the work takes me – whether it’s for research or installation. It’s allowed me to keep the child-like parts of my mind alive, so I’m able to live in a way where I can see the world in a creative and playful way.”

Fetterman was on hand for the installation last weekend, which was challenging, according to Scott Price, Price Sculpture Forest founder and board president of the nonprofit.

“The heights, placement angles, and working within brush from the ground were the main challenges,” he said. “We of course retain and protect all the native understory, though that made the entire work area a maze of branches and high bushes. We also wanted an aerial rigging system that protected the health of the supporting trees. Fortunately, we received essential assistance from a very generous and knowledgeable semi-retired professional rigger who lives right here on Whidbey. He led the entire operation, directed the volunteers and ensured that everything was installed professionally and securely.”

As is often said in real estate, it’s all about location. When it comes to sculpture, its placement and location can inform its interpretation and the viewers’ perspective, something Fetterman loves about placing work in fresh environments.

“It is my favorite part of installing in new locations,” she said. “I learn something new or see the work completely different every time.”

Interpretation of her work is always in the eyes of the beholder.

 “I don’t need viewers to magically know what I was thinking when I made the sculpture, I just want to give people a moment of pause to be able to see this drawing in the sky and take it home with them in their minds,” she said. “My favorite moments are when viewers send me pictures of something they’ve created that my work inspired them to do, even weeks after they’ve seen it.”

At this point, “Vertebrae” is scheduled to remain at the sculpture forest for the next two years, so there is plenty of time to see it. Of course, multiple viewings of any of the pieces in the forest gallery could be necessary, as the sculptures can change based on light at various times of day, weather conditions or the season.

“We are approaching the point where we have the maximum number that we want in the sculpture forest, to ensure that every sculpture is provided its own space and visitors enjoy the natural setting between sculptures,” said Price. “After filling all of the best locations, we will gradually begin rotating sculptures out and replace them with new sculptures over time.”

Fetterman said she is very pleased to have brought “Vertebrae” to Whidbey Island.

“I was looking for a forever home for my work and when I found Price Sculpture [Forest], the images looked absolutely beautiful and serene,” she said. “Scott had a call out for work that was natural and whimsical, and I loved that was what the park was looking for.

“I do think of much of my work as whimsical, but not in the way that a fairy tale’s whimsical creations bring you to another place,” Fetterman continued. “I want to bring that fairy tale solidly onto the ground next to you, to make this world more imaginative. Working in 3D materials, the same materials that make up everything around us in our daily lives, gives my work that realism that allows it to solidly exist in our reality.”

Price, meanwhile, said the creativity of the artists who have work on display in the sculpture forest never ceases to amaze him.

“More importantly, it amazes, excites, and increases appreciation of the possibilities in art for visitors,” he said. “We have specific themes and design principles that art must align with at the sculpture forest. Every submitted sculpture is considered individually, as well as how it integrates with the natural environment and how it enhances the overall collection. Yet within all of those requirements, sculptors from around the world delight and entertain everyone with new visions that are able to expand people’s perceptions of nature-integrated art.”

The Price Sculpture Forest is open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (or sunset, whichever comes first). Admission is free, but donations are gladly accepted. Dogs and bikes are not allowed. A free, self-guided tour is available via a smartphone. The forest is located at 678 Parker Road, in Coupeville. Learn more at Learn more about Sarah Fetterman’s work at