Meet Thomas Sayre

We caught up with artist Thomas Sayre this summer ahead of the October reopening of the People’s Collection to talk about Gyre, his iconic installation in the Museum Park. Read an excerpt from that conversation below, discussing his artistic process, memories of its 1999 installation, and Gyre’s inspiration behind the creation of a new NCMA logo.

Tell us about the poem that inspired Gyre.

The name Gyre was inspired by the Irish poet W. B. Yeats. Yeats saw the development of human history as a complicated double spiral going in reverse directions, which he called gyres. This is an English word for a spiral-like movement, not one he invented. Arguably, the most famous poem where the word gyre is used by Yeats is “Second Coming,” which I was reading in 1999 while I was working on the NCMA project.

A white, tanned man in a white construction hat and neon orange construction crew vest leans against a terracotta ring of an earth-cast sculpture.
The sculptor Thomas Sayre has created earth-cast works in many locations all over the world; Photo: Minnow Media

Black ink sketch of three cursive "e" shapes on a cross-hatched groundYour original sketches of Gyre were a starting point for this new logo. What is your artistic process for beginning a new work of art?

The process of the conceiving of the piece for the NCMA was similar to the process for all my large, public works. Everything comes from the site. At the NCMA I was interested in drawing attention to the undulations of the terrain versus the true level line made by the apex of the three parabolic arches, to act as a beckoning device to the additional land from the old prison site (which was under negotiation at the time we built Gyre), and the balance of being handmade and nature-made, which is inherent in the techniques of earth casting.

Giant earth-cast rings of sculpture supported by metal scaffolding.
Construction of Gyre by artist Thomas Sayre, 1999

Gyre was an important early addition to the Museum Park. What is a favorite memory from its installation?

Just after the project was completed, I remember the delight of watching the legendary NC band Arrogance play in one of the early concerts at the Amphitheater and seeing Gyre lit up, perched on its ridgeline as the sun went down.

Three monumental, terracotta rings are lit orange at night against a midnight blue sky.
Evening view of Gyre in the Museum Park

Gyre is a visitor favorite. What are your favorite works of art in the People’s Collection?

The painting of Anselm Kiefer; Michael Richards, Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian; El Anatsui,

Lines That Link Humanity; the African installation in general.

Anselm Kiefer, Untitled, 1980–86, oil, acrylic, emulsion, shellac, lead, charcoal, and straw on photograph, mounted on canvas; with stones, lead, and steel cable; in three parts, panel with boulders: 130 1/4 x 73 in., panel with ladder: 130 5/8 x 72 5/8 in., panel with funnel: 130 1/4 x 72 7/8 in., Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina, W. R. Valentiner, and various donors, by exchange

 What are you most excited about for the new logo and brand?

I am excited and grateful that a work I created 23 years ago continues to have life and increasing connections to visitors at the NCMA, my community, my state, and the world beyond.

Picture of Karlie Marlowe
Karlie Marlowe is director of marketing and visitor services at the NCMA.

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