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“Tree of Knowledge” blooms at Hawn Memorial Library in Clayton


CLAYTON — Most of the works by sculptor William L. Salisbury are social commentary pieces, a practice that has branched out to the front yard of Hawn Memorial Library on John Street.

The 13-foot steel “Tree of Knowledge” sculpture includes 25 “books” that never will be read. But the artist hopes real books, the printed type, never fade away.

“There’s a lot of change,” Mr. Salisbury said. “That’s why I choose this idea. Books are fading from the limelight in a lot of ways.”

The Friends of Hawn Memorial Library commissioned Mr. Salisbury to create the sculpture. One way funds were raised were by donors sponsoring the books attached to “Tree of Knowledge.” Once the books were sold out, sponsorships at different levels were available. Book sponsors had the option of including their name on a plaque to be installed near the tree.

“We had several patrons make donations in memory of the family members from whom they received their love of reading.” said Kristy Perry, director of Hawn Memorial Library.

A dedication ceremony is at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the library.

It took Mr. Salisbury about three months to create “Tree of Knowledge” while he worked at it “on and off” at his shop on County Route 13 in Omar, town of Alexandria. The finished product was taken to Specialty Welding and Fabricating in Syracuse, where it was sandblasted and had a protective coating baked onto it.

Despite such sculpted details as open books with ripples of pages and words in titles starting to bud, Mr. Salisbury, 63, said the sculpture was “nothing really hard, in my mind.”

“It was just a lot of work,” he said. “You just have to have the courage to start and the willpower to finish.”

“Tree of Knowledge” is a rare public sculpture by Mr. Salisbury. He admits Wednesday’s dedication, which he plans to attend, makes him a little uneasy.

“It’s not usually my thing that I’m out in a public group of people with a speech or something,” he said.

His most public sculpture is seen by motorists a few miles outside of Alexandria Bay off I-81. The three 11-foot-high crows, anchored to metal posts drilled into bedrock, stand in a meadow in back of his shop. One crow pecks at the ground between its four-clawed iron feet. Behind the forager, a second crow with turned head looks over its right shoulder at a crow standing at alert with large yellow eyes.

Mr. Salisbury created the crows mainly for fun. But the project is also commentary on the new millennium, with the crows representing dire predictions and prophecies made by some at the turn of the century. Two crows were installed in 1999 and the other in 2001.

Mr. Salisbury also is a commercial welder, which is the main way he earns a living.

“Anything people drop off here, I say, ‘If you broke it, I can fix it,’” he said.

“But sculpture has always been my thing since I was a little kid,” he said. “I like commissioned work. I’m not someone who goes out and seeks sculpture and stuff. I prefer that people come to me with inspiration. We work out that inspiration. If I like it a lot, we do a project together.”

Lately, Mr. Salisbury has been inspired by discarded books he’s been seeing around town.

“You see piles of books out on the street here, with a sign, ‘Take them — free books!’ Mr. Salisbury said. “So I collect them.”

He said he’ll likely perform “book sacrilege” and turn the tomes into an indoor sculpture of human figures.

“It’s social commentary,” Mr. Salisbury said. “A comment on the digital age and the advent of it. Less people are reading books as they grow up. Everything is on your tablet or it’s even going to be in your eyeglasses.”

In the meantime, he hopes “Tree of Knowledge” will continue to inspire readers. It steadfastly stands in front of the library, its “roots” gripping a boulder of pink granite like a desperate, clenched fist.

“That should last about 100 years — at least,” Mr. Salisbury said of his sculpture.

The details
WHAT: Friends of Hawn Memorial Library hosting dedication for William L. Salisbury’s “Tree of Knowledge” sculpture.
WHEN/WHERE: 4 p.m. Wednesday at the library, 220 John St.
The dedication will include speeches by local officials, Polly Baril, president of the Friends of the Library and Mr. Salisbury. It will also include a video of the sculpture being installed.
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