Inside Campus as Canvas: Cloud Tree 1, Alaina Mahoney Interview

Posted by Julia Kennard on 10/11/22 9:29 AM
Julia Kennard

Have you walked by the Peebles, the Admissions building on campus and noticed silver clouds balanced atop a twisted metal base? That is Cloud Tree 1, a sculpture by artist Alaina Mahoney (AM) and part of CH-CH’s Campus as Canvas initiative that was installed in 2018. We interviewed Alaina Mahoney to ask her four brief questions about this piece and her process to create it. 

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Tell us about Cloud Tree 1 and your process to create it. 

AM: Cloud Tree 1 is a steel sculpture of a tree with clouds coming out of the top, like their leaves. Concept wise, I am still working on this series and figuring it out. Usually when I make sculpture, I make pieces or components before I have a good grasp on why I’m making them. For this piece, I had the image in my head and I thought it would be interesting to explore the idea of a tree as a canvas in the same way that you would put an image on a canvas. I’m using the tree as the base and, in this case, clouds are coming out of it, but it could be another object that acts as the fruits or the leaves coming out of a base. 

I knew I wanted to work with common building materials, so this piece is mainly made of steel and the clouds themselves are hot-dipped galvanized which is a finishing method used often in ornamental metal work. For the trunk I used a process called blacksmithing where metal is heated up in a forge (similar to a gas oven) and then the steel is manipulated in different ways while it is hot. Once the pieces of pipe for the trunk and branches were hot enough, they were hit with a power hammer which imprinted the texture onto the metal giving this piece a bark or vine texture. The clouds were made by drawing cartoon cloud shapes on pieces of sheet metal and cutting two of them out and welding the edges together, then temporarily welding in a piece of pipe and heating up the clouds and blowing them up like a balloon using compressed air. 

I didn’t want to use paint on this piece so that you can see it weathering, just like a building would. The hot dipped galvanizing on the clouds is an industrial technique where the clouds are dipped in molten zinc which creates a thin coating on the outside. 


How did you use the campus as inspiration for this work and/or what connections do you see between the piece and its environment?

AM: I wanted to make something that reflected on structural building and building techniques. I knew it was going to be seen in the round, so I wanted to make sure it looked good from a few locations. From far away it may look like a tree, but when you get closer you see it is made of steel and galvanized steel which reflects some of the architectural methods of building methods used in structures. 


Is there anything else you would like to share about Cloud Tree 1?

AM: I hope that people that look at it can get a sense of curiosity out of it and that it brings people joy when they walk around the campus. I look forward to continuing this series and someday seeing all of these works together. 


How can people learn more about your work? 

AM: I own an ornamental metal shop and I post process videos on this account @amdesignfab and I have another art Instagram @alaina_the_fabricator and my art website: and have a business website



Topics: Boarding School, Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall

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