Although Marin landscape artist Daniel McCormick often exhibits his works of earth art in galleries, the natural place for his organic sculptures is in the wild, where the graceful forms find a home clinging to the edges of creek banks and gullies, gradually subsuming themselves into the existing environment. Spark follows McCormick as he works on an installation in the John West Fork of Olema Creek, in Marin — a prime spawning ground for endangered coho salmon and steelhead trout.

Born in 1950 in Oakland, McCormick graduated from San Leandro High School, then UC Berkeley, where he studied environmental design. Deeply influenced by James Turrell, whose large-scale works — such as Roden Crater in Flagstaff, Arizona — play with ideas of light and space, McCormick incorporates ideas of interplay and intervention with the natural environment into his artwork.

The Sausalito-based Headlands Center for the Arts awarded McCormick a grant to create his site-specific installations for riparian environments, areas where land and stream converge. When streams run near farms and towns, silt, gravel and sediment often flow into the water, clogging areas once populated by spawning salmon and trout. McCormick’s works — woven shields made of local biodegradable materials such as willow branches, alder and straw — are designed not only as public art, but also as strategically placed silt traps that he hopes will help restore watersheds critically damaged by erosion and agricultural runoffs.

“I want my sculptures to have a part in influencing the ecological balance of compromised environments,” McCormick states in an article in Land Views. “They are intended to give advantage to the natural system, and after a period of time, as the restoration process is established, the artist’s presence shall no longer be felt.”

For McCormick, seeing his sculptures become a part of the environment is an integral part of the process, as is the element of community education and participation. As his works have become larger in scale, McCormick often employs the assistance of students from Dominican University in San Rafael and West Marin Elementary School in the installation process.

Daniel McCormick 19 January,2016Spark

Related Episodes


FYCO, McCormick, and Guerrero

Meet young musicians collaborating with monks, an environmental artist, and an innovative glass artist.


Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor