Works of wonder

By Karen Dandurant

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NEW CASTLE -- Since he can't say who bought it or where exactly it will end up, artist Walter Liff is affectionately calling his latest creation "Catch of the Day on the Cocheco" -- which gives at least a hint of its future location.

Sometime on Tuesday, a piece Liff is calling perhaps his best weathervane yet will be raised by crane 35 feet into the air to its new home. The weathervane, at 9 feet, 8 inches tall, depicts an osprey with a 6-foot wingspan. It is clutching a striped bass in its talons, one it just plucked from the waters of the Cocheco River. The aluminum sculpture is layered in 23 carat gold leaf, shining brilliantly in the sun.

"There are 1,515 leafs," said Liff. "Each are 3.5 inches by 3.5 inches. It was painstaking to apply them. My daughter Beth (Liff) worked with me to apply them."

New Castle artist Walter Liff has completed his latest creation featuring an osprey capturing a striped bass in the Cocheco River. The 6-foot sculpture was crafted in aluminum alloy and finished in gold leaf.
Photo by Rich Beauchesne

Below the waves are three more bass, working to evade the osprey. Below that are the globes and the wind indicator. Both the globes and the N, S, E and W are also covered in gold leaf.

Moving farther down, into the cupola of the home, a pole will enter the roof, stopping 10 feet above the floor and ending in a gold leaf large-mouth bass. This piece allows the residents of the home to see from inside what the winds are doing outside.

Liff's gallery is aptly called "Steeling Nature" and describes so well what he does -- art in steel, copper and occasionally rocks. His New Castle property is a wonderland of his whimsical creations, all drawn from nature -- human, animal, fish and birds.

His tools are not paintbrushes, but welding torches, hammers and chisels. His work space could pass for a workshop if not for all the half-formed art inside. A second piece for the same client is there, in progress: a 21-foot cattail fence topped with red-winged blackbirds.

Liff began his latest weathervane in September of last year. He said it has been six months from sketch to sculpture.

Anyone who has spent time in the Seacoast has probably seen Liff's work. He created the window to the ocean being painted by an artist at Great Island Common in New Castle. The artist depicted is Liff's friend, retired-surgeon-turned-painter Tom Quinn.

He also created the depiction of a volunteer reading to elementary schoolchildren at New Castle's Maude H. Trefethen School. The work was commissioned by the husband of a former school board member who died of cancer as a memorial. The three children to the right of the volunteer are her children. Two other faceless children sit to her left. Every school volunteer who gives five years of time will find their name engraved on the book held by the reader.

A piece of Liff's art, a sculpture of a small heron, was commissioned by President Clinton for the White House. Liff is a juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, and his work can be found in galleries and private collections throughout the U.S. and in Europe.