During September and October of 2012,  artist Marela Zacarías led the local community in turning 1,024 square feet of reconstructed silo into a permanent sculptural mural installation in the Willowell woods. Zacarías’s project, called Azimuth, is part of a series of artist residencies at Willowell that interpret both Pre-Colombian design motifs and Vermont’s natural environment.

Above: 10-minute film about the making of Azimuth

According to Zacarías, Azimuth “is meant to work as a meditation on transformation and an offering to nature.”

A major source of inspiration for Zacarías is Pre-Colombian architecture, in particular a pyramid at the archaeological site of Xochicalco in Morelos, Mexico. “Looking at the work that the Olmec artists created in this site around 650 AD,” she said, “I am amazed at the connection of the pyramids with nature.

“The architects thought about the placement of the buildings and their orientation in relationship to the stars and the four directions. The stone carvings on the surface of this pyramid are very intricate and I find the combination of organic and symmetrical patterns very inspiring. I imagine the way the patterns looked when they were painted. The colors must have been bright and beautiful next to the background of the clouds and the trees.”

In the spirit of these ancient artists, Zacarías intended the project at Willowell to relate to its environment in shape, placement and color. While most murals are painted on existing flat walls, Azimuth came to life on the curved sides of a free-standing reconstructed silo. Two adjacent 9-foot-tall silo halves join to form the sculpture’s S-shape. Zacarías said she had this nonlinear form in mind from the beginning, when she was approached by Willowell to create a “wall in the woods.”

“I knew that the mural could not be painted on a rectangular wall, as it would feel like an imposition to the woods that surround it,” she said. “So I decided to use a feminine, organic shape to paint on.” Local artist Eben Markowski and his brother Judd Markowski provided the ideal answer to the problem of building a curved wall when they suggested using the old silo at Good Companion Farm in Ferrisburgh. They constructed the wall as a site-specific sculpture that invites its viewers to interact with the landscape by walking in and around the wall while taking in the mural.

Vergennes fourth graders paint the first colors on the wall during a Sept 24 field trip

“By walking around the wall, the people who look at the mural will complete the 8, which is a symbol of the infinite and the life cycle,” Zacarías said. “The S is also a wave, seen in the ocean or in the traveling of sound. It represents the ups and downs of our daily lives and the mountains that surround us.”

Zacarías is a Mexico City-born, Brooklyn-based artist who has worked with communities in the U.S. and Latin America to paint over 30 murals. Azimuth is her first sculptural mural and her first non-objective mural. She painted the silo surfaces with “abstract patterns inspired by the changing of the seasons and the four directions.”  The four sides of the sculpture interpret the four seasons with non-representational patterns and colors.

The word “azimuth,” meaning in the original Arabic “a way, a part, or a quarter,” measures in nautical terms the angle between North and a star’s position on the horizon. It can also mean the angle between a forward-facing person and a sound. As the mural’s title, Azimuth prompts reflection on how we position ourselves within nature. It also calls attention to the playful echoes the silo walls create.

Marela chose over 20 different colors for the first wall alone.

“As a foundation committed to finding opportunities that bring together arts, education, and the environment, Willowell is excited to support this unique project,” says Matt Schlein, the Foundation’s director. “For starters, having the youth and community get a chance to work with an internationally renowned artist can only foster creativity and enthusiasm for the arts. Additionally, Marela’s design and concept of the piece, blending notions around time, nature, pre-Colombian design motifs, and Vermont’s agrarian history will continue to inspire and promote a sense of place long after the residency concludes.”

During her residency at Willowell, Zacarías worked with over 80 local students ages 6 through 18. Elementary students from Monkton and Vergennes marked the first days of fall by painting autumnal colors on the first side of the wall to be painted. Students in the Walden Project provided the most extensive assistance. The mural stands outside the entrance to their outdoor classroom. Middlebury College senior Annie Ulrich also assisted as an intern during the four-week painting process.


Check out our Facebook page for more images from the opening reception.


Azimuth is funded in large part by the Alex Gordon Trust, the Bay and Paul Foundations, and the Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason Foundation.


For more information about Marela Zacarías, visit