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WATCH: The fleeting beauty of artist Andy Goldsworthy’s ‘rain shadows’

British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy seems to have a built-in weather radar — he’s alert to even the slightest chance of rain. Maybe it’s in his DNA, growing up in England and now living in Scotland, two places famous for their frequent wet spells. That background has served an artistic purpose, in this case, to create his now infamous “rain shadows”.

Our PBS NewsHour team was on hand to watch the creation of one of the “rain shadows” while we were filming at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. This is where Goldsworthy’s latest project is underway — a “walking wall” — a 100-yard stone wall built, and rebuilt, in five stages that “walks” across the landscape of the museum’s campus. The project began in March and will finish in November. The wall also served as the backdrop for the “rain shadow” the NewsHour watched.

As our day of filming was coming to a close, the Kansas City sky took on an ominous hue. A summer storm was on its way. The hint of rain in the air sent Goldsworthy into flurried activity — searching for the nearest and best paved surface to lie down on. For Goldsworthy, the perfect spot is sometimes a sidewalk, parking lot, or even New York City’s Times Square. In this case, it was the closed off road near the wall he and his team have been building. We looked on as he and his daughter Holly, who works as his assistant, scrambled to set up their camera and tripod to capture the entire “rain shadow” process.

We weren’t quite sure what to expect, and I don’t think any of us thought the artistic process would take more than 30 minutes. Goldsworthy found his spot, lay down, closed his eyes, and let the rain fall around him. There were a couple of false starts as the rain sputtered and dwindled. But eventually, a steady rain fell, and Goldsworthy achieved the desired effect. He lay still for just enough time for the road around him to darken, hopped up and then watched the result. Once he was up, the “rain shadow” began to fill in with rain drops. Goldsworthy sat down to contemplate it. Surprisingly, the shadow returned several times over the course of half an hour. At one point, a passerby stopped to introduce himself, unsure of what we were all doing, but apart from that brief interruption, we watched the process unfold in silence.

When the contemplation was done, Goldsworthy and his daughter quickly checked the camera. Goldsworthy wasn’t entirely certain that he had hit record. But luckily, he had. And as he told us, this was one of his best rain shadows yet.

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