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Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

Michael Bashaw's 'Wind in the Garden' sculpture honors native plants, migratory birds and the river

Michael Bashaw with Wind in the Garden sculpture.
John Baldasare
The sculpture, called Wind in the Garden, will be unveiled at the Dayton Garden Club Centennial Overlook on Tuesday, June 13.

Michael Bashaw used to go down to the flood locks of the Miami River where there were large gears and pipes. There were slits in these pipes and the wind would whistle through them.

“I would take my flute down there,” Bashaw said, “And I would play along with them. I’d practice there and play along with them because there were all these harmonics and there were different pitches. It was magical.”

For years, Bashaw imagined a sculpture along the river that sings different tones with the wind. When the Dayton Garden Club commissioned him for their 100-year anniversary site alongside Monument bridge, he got his opportunity. The work is called Wind in the Garden. Standing in his studio, Bashaw told me the Dayton Garden Club wanted a sculpture that honored the protection of native plants, migratory birds, and the river.

The evolution of Bashaw's fern sculpture

Bashaw’s first inspiration came in a dream. He was at Wright State University, his alma mater.

“The entire campus became a huge garden area,” Bashaw recalled. “And outside of that was a huge lobby that encircled it. And up above that lobby were these fishlike forms that I saw clearly. And then I started stacking those forms in some drawings.”

The fish forms evolved into fiddle head ferns, three of them arranged in a circle, made of steel and other metals. Bashaw described the fern forms: “So what you’re looking at is an abstracted fiddlehead fern, seven feet tall. On one of the edges, the outer edge, you have almost a cascading effect, even a river motif like waves.”

 Bashaw's wind instruments
Michael Bashaw

Bashaw's experimentation with sound

Now he needed the sound. So he started experimenting, borrowing from earlier sculptures. He had put metal bars on a giant kalimba.

[Sound of Bashaw playing kalimba]

Then he attached bells to the bars.

“I started using pods on it,” he told me. “seed pods and bells, that sound that’s close to what I’m going to have inside these floral forms.”

[Sound of Bashaw playing bells]

Three metal pipes rise up 18 feet high from the center of the fiddlehead ferns. The pipes have holes that produce tones and pitches like a flute when you twist the pipes into the wind.

“I tested all these,” Bashaw said.

[Sound of Bashaw blowing into pipes, playing them like a flute]

“I’d go out on a windy day, and I would hold them up down on the site on the hill there. I would turn different size pipes and experiment with the sounds.”

 Metal inside Bashwa's workshop
Michael Bashaw

Reconnecting with Dayton's rivers

Growing up in East Dayton, Bashaw came to believe that rivers are natural sanctuaries. He remembers fishing as a kid with family.

“There was a mist, it was pre-dawn, just a half light, and there’s a fog over the water. We go down this long road, and I see this giant bird I had never witnessed before, never around Dayton, and it was magnificent, and I never forgot it. But that was the only one I saw until I was an adult, and the great blue herons started coming back here after the rivers were cleaned up, after the foundries were no longer along the river here. It’s a very different environment now.”

Bashaw’s new sculpture draws us back to life on the river. He stresses “the incredible excitement of looking down on that water and seeing it move and noticing the birds, and the art institute right across the way. I just hope it elevates that location and draws people to the site, so they can look out over the water.”

You can join the debut ribbon cutting for the Wind in the Garden and the Dayton Garden Club Centennial Overlook on Tuesday June 13 at 12:30 p.m. at Riverview and Monument in Dayton (parking available at the Masonic Center).

You can also experience more of Michael Bashaw’s sound sculptures online.

Support for Culture Couch comes from WYSO Leaders Frank Scenna and Heather Bailey, who are proud to support storytelling that sparks curiosity, highlights creativity and builds community and Ohio Arts Council.

Culture Couch is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.

David Seitz learned his audio writing skills in the third Community Voices class. Since then he has produced many stories on music, theater, dance, and visual art for Cultural Couch. Some of these stories have won awards from the Public Media Journalists Association and the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors. He is deeply grateful that most of his stories address social justice issues in a variety of art forms, whether it be trans gender singing, the musical story of activist Bayard Rustin, or men performing Hamilton in prison.