David Nash, Wooden Boulder

Posted: February 6, 2012 in Development Strategies

In the summer of 1978 David Nash was told of a great oak that had recently been felled. Leaving the tree in-situ, Nash carved many sculptures from this piece of wood over a period of two years.

However, the first was to be a giant Oak ball, three feet across and weighing about half a ton. Being difficult to remove from the hill, Nash decided to make good use of the nearby stream, by floating the boulder downstream, and collect it later.

But once released, Nash realized the potential of the ball. That he had merely released this natural object back to nature. From this point “Wooden Boulder” was born, with its own life, moving when it wanted. From this point, Nash was merely the guardian of this sculpture.

Deakin [2008] wrote, “Wooden Boulder is an equally radical work about letting go. It is adventurous in every sense, a great gesture of liberation in which Nash has surrendered his work to nature and the elements and set no limits”.

Since 1978, the boulder has slipped, rolled and sometimes forced by flood through the landscape, following the course of stream and river until it was last seen in the estuary of the river Dwyryd in 2003. It may have been washed out to sea or buried in sand in the estuary.

Nash [2001] writes, “I have followed its engagement with the weather, gravity and the seasons. It became a stepping-stone into the drama of physical geography.

Spheres imply movement and initially I helped it to move, but after a few years I observed it only intervening when absolutely necessary – when it became wedged under a bridge.”

During the first 24 years it moved down stream nine times remaining static for months and years. Sedentary and heavy it would sit bedded in stones animated by the varying water levels and the seasons. Beyond the bridge its position survived many storms, the force of the water spread over the shallow banks did not have the power to shift it. I did not expect it to move into the Dwyryd river in my lifetime.

Then in November 2002 it was gone. The ‘goneness’ was palpable. The storm propelled the boulder 5 kilometres, stopping on a sandbank in the Dwryd estuary. Now tidal, it became very mobile. The high tides around full moon and the new moon moved it every 12 hours to a new place, each placement unique to the consequence of the tide, wind, rain and depth of water.

In January 2003 it disappeared from the estuary but was found again in a marsh. An incoming tide had taken it up a creek, where it stayed for five weeks. The equinox tide of March 19 2003 was high enough to float it back to the estuary where it continued its movement back and forth 3 or 4 kilometres each move.

The wooden boulder was last seen in June 2003 on a sandbank near Ynys Giftan. All creeks and marshes have been searched so it can, only be assumed it has made its way to the sea. It is not lost. It is wherever it is.”


Deakin, R. (2008). Wildwood, A Journey Through Trees. Penguin Books, London

Nash, D. (2001). Forms into Time. Artmedia Press, London

  1. […] both because it sent me off to discover David Nash’s extraordinary piece of art, Wooden Boulder (do click on the link) and because when I came back to the poem it was much richer than when read […]

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