Story by Sara Paul
Behind the barns at Sweetman Farms, beside the sod trenches, and beyond the retired corn silos there lies a modest, makeshift shed where rusty old dreams become beautiful recycled realities.
Amy Elizabeth Lewis Sweetman stands proud and tall donning sturdy, dirty boots in her outdoor studio where she works day or night, rain or shine, snow or sleet. It’s a shaky shack made from parts of a shipping container from Port Newark that Amy boasts has been around the world 20 times.
The young artist is surrounded by decades of old tractor seats, dilapidated farm equipment, and hundreds of empty cans of Rust-oleum. What may look at a first glance to be junk, in reality is teeming with interesting life stories just as authentic as the artist who will transform them into fresh, functional, and fun art.
“We have some serious lemons here, and I thought ‘what can I do to make some serious lemonade?’” smiles the 33-year-old founder of Agrisculpture, a business started in 2012. As reflected in her slogan, “Farm Equipment, Lovingly Rethought,” Amy says her theme is transformation.
“I love being in my ‘sculpture shed’ because it’s so interesting to turn garbage into something beautiful and just nicer to use what we have. It’s my ultimate fulfillment to be a useful human being and be creative,” says the Warwick resident as she smiles at a rickety storage garage. The space is filled with such things as giant organ pipes from an old mansion in Campbell Hall, some disk harrows, and stacks of multi-level harrows.
“It’s what I was born to do!” exclaims a giant-eyed, imagination-hungry Amy whose fountains, candlestick collection, and plasma cut-out steel sculptures have found their way into Hudson Valley homes, stores, and even medical facilities.
Her installment, “The Healing Stage,” is the newest addition to her many pieces at Orange Regional Medical Center in Middletown, NY, a 360-degree journey for Amy, as ten years ago she was working as an architect for a medical facility in Dubai.
“The Healing Stage” was commissioned by the Orange Regional Medical Center to be sited on the second floor roof ledge. The series of seven steel sculptures sits outside the main patient waiting room and is designed to be viewed by those inside, through a glass curtain wall. Measuring 55 feet long and four to six feet tall, the structure was developed to celebrate natural elements found in the interior design of the waiting room and connect them with the tree line beyond Orange Regional, according to the artist.
“‘The Healing Stage’ can best be described as a metal landscape with trees, flowers, birds, rolling hills, and a vast lake. It is the landscape of Orange County and it invites you to wander in its woods, fields, mountains and waterways. I am truly grateful to all those who helped me make this project possible: my husband Douglas Sweetman, Scott Phillips, and R.S. Phillips Steel, Bryan Clapper Structural Engineering, Rust-oleum Corporation, Nina Favata, Scott Batulis and their incredible team at Orange Regional Medical Center,” comments Amy, who will begin her twelfth installment at the Center in spring 2019.
Born Amy Elizabeth Lewis in Newburgh, NY, the young country kid moved to Cornwall, NY at age four. With her father an active, local attorney and her mother serving as his administrative support, Amy was allowed ample opportunity for artistic exploration.
“I was left to my own devices, and I loved two things: playing Kids Pics, a basic graphic design [program] on my computer, and hanging out at the library, a pastime that was more about climbing and spatial activities and less about reading,” recalls Amy, who also played the violin.
Fast forward to Amy’s impressive college career: she received her five–year professional Bachelor’s Degree from Cornell University, where she studied architecture and then extended her academic pursuits to a semester in Rome, Italy.
With book knowledge under her belt, the determined and adventurous soul leaped at the opportunity to work at a prestigious company in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
At 23-years-young, Amy was the youngest female project coordinator at the former Burt Hill, designing the royal hospital Al Mafraq in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. She managed the building from start to finish, however when the economy collapsed and everyone from the 600-person company was laid off, Amy seized the opportunity to return to the states to reflect on her creative pursuits and possibilities. She moved to Los Angeles, CA, where she worked in freelance film productions and also started to get the artistic itch to start her own business.
In 2010, Amy was selected by Channel 1 NHK Japan to be the subject of a documentary film. Amy was the featured artist, and her project, “Desertropolis,” became the featured art installation in their documentary, which was filmed in part, in her Los Angeles studio, and also at the Burning Man Festival in Black Rock City, NV.
The acclaim provided some added confidence and validation, and Amy finally founded her own business, Architectural Stylist, in July 2011. “It was definitely the best thing I ever did,” Amy smiles, before retelling another pivotal, yet surprise happening.
It was fall 2011 and Amy was visiting her parents in Warwick. Thanks to small town word-of-mouth, Amy already had a small client base and was busy searching for some rusty parts in Warwick and Pine Island. One stop at a large farm proved to be life-changing.
“I was literally knocking on barn doors when this guy comes out thinking I was a compost customer. He played it pretty cool and said he’d check to see if he had anything I could use and to give him a call later,” says Amy, who at the time had no idea that she had just met her husband-to-be.
“I went out looking for rusty garbage to turn into something beautiful and I found love,” Amy whispered lovingly. She and Doug were married in the summer of 2016 and her studio now sits on her husband’s family’s land. Doug also owns Warwick Valley Welding.
Utilizing only American-made recycled steel, Amy is thrilled to continue to grow her business, noting that, “I’m selling a product but also selling artistic process and me as your personal stylist for architecture.”
She describes her process that begins first with her sketch pad and pen, then a draft in AutoCad, a type of design software, and finally with showing clients the exact agreed upon specs and getting feedback.
“I love talking to people and having conversations about design. People can learn from each other, and I love learning from others,” says Amy, who also founded and hosts a monthly storytelling series, “DO YOU LOVE WHAT YOU DO?” The series, which was formerly held at Pennings Farm in Warwick, is in its third year and will soon be introduced as a program in Dutchess County Schools.
To learn more about Amy and her creations, visit www.agrisculpture.com.
The Warwick Valley Dispatch would like to feature local artists who are passionate in their creative pursuits. These individuals can be established artists or those who are getting started in their trade. We ask that if you know of any artists who would be appropriate for these human interest pieces that you contact Sara Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or 718-702-3091.