Nancy Holt is considered one of the pioneers of land art in this country. Having completed a major earthwork called Sun Tunnels in the Utah desert in 1976, Holt visited Western in 1979 and was attracted to the quite different landscape of the Northwest. The sculpture she created for Western is actually her first stone masonry work, although she continued to use this process in later projects. She selected the Brown Mountain stone of British Columbia and found the mason Al Poynter whose stonework she greatly admired. While Poynter would do the physical labor, Holt designed the 40- and 20-foot diameter rings which form the sculpture and was involved in all the decisions and changes which do occur on a project.
Previously, Holt had designed works which aligned themselves to the sun. At Western, her rock enclosure is aligned to the North Star; that is, the four arches running north and south are calculated from the North Star. Holt knew that the North Star was important to coastal navigators and to the people of Bellingham who live in this seaport. As she stated, “I do like the idea of celestially fixing our works on earth.”
The circular holes, referring to points on the compass, give a more horizontal direction as we look out onto the landscape. Often visitors feel that Holt’s work which combines elements of architecture, sculpture, and landscape, reminds them of a sacred site. Holt recognizes that people will bring to her work, as she says, “layers of information and layers of interpretation and metaphor.”
At a lecture at Western, Holt said
“…Rock Rings did accomplish something deep in my psyche. It was an important work for me. It was something that I felt I needed to get out that was in me, and I had a very strong need to make that work. And then once it was done, I think I was able to move on from there to other things.”