A magical trail

Pottery and sculpture embellish this fairytale walk in the woods.


There is magic in the air as you walk through Heather Goff and Bill O’Callaghan’s sculpture trail, with paths that wander for a half-mile or so through the woods on their gorgeous Chilmark property.

You have to keep on your toes as soon as you enter through the handcrafted gate to this truly enchanted realm. Ambling along the narrow path, you will find yourself stopping every few feet to point out to your walking mate any of the assorted arresting gnomes, fairies, wood nymphs, dragons, and other mystical indistinguishable creatures, as well as marvelous castles and wood-constructed furniture nestled in tree trunks, between the nooks of large rocks, or hanging off branches. It’s like a giant game of I Spy, where one find lures you to the next.

O’Callaghan (the Mad Potter), who came to the Island in 1986, fashions his creations from pottery and Island driftwood that he says spark his imagination, fueled by the natural world around him and rich folklore of his native Ireland.

Goff, who produces exquisite decorative handcrafts, functional pottery, and tiles, as well as collaborating on custom commissions for home installations and gifts, is integral to the trail. Its origins began from the dog walking Goff does for people on the side. She says, “We started the trail two years ago [in] September as a path to walk the dogs, and also as a place to put some of Bill’s sculptures that he had in storage, so they could be enjoyed by friends and family. I mowed the trail with a brush cutter, while Bill directed me around rocks and stumps. However, it wasn’t long before a synergy developed between Bill, his creative process, and the woods. The land itself inspired a whole new body of creations from him, guardians, tree spirits, sentinels. It was about a year ago that we decided to work toward making the path public so that people could come and experience his work as a whole in context with the woods.”

Goff not only does the trailblazing but keeps up on all the brush cutting, and plans where things go — an essential element of the experience. Although O’Callaghan creates most of the large installations, it can be a fairly collaborative process. Goff reports that she might say, “That sculpture looks like a storyteller; why don’t you make some children to listen to it?” or “Bill, wouldn’t it be cool if you created a circle of columns with heads on top? Like sentinels?”

Most of the larger work on the trail flows from O’Callaghan without interference, and some of his most stunning pieces could be inspired by the spirit of the woods itself, apparently speaking to him in his dreams. However, Goff contributes the mesmerizing eyes and faces that peer out of the trees at us. She’s also made some flying creatures, and her tiles are tucked here and there. Goff also composes poems that go with various installations, and hopes to write more, and the two of them are brewing up ideas for some collaborative pieces.

Goff and O’Callaghan have a pottery shop near the parking lot, at the bottom of which is the trail. She says, “Visiting it is not a requirement for the walk, which is free, but if people are inspired by the work and would like to purchase a small figure, vessel, or tile sculpted by the artists as a gift or souvenir, they are welcome.”

Goff points out, “The trail trains the eye to start noticing the details in the natural setting, to appreciate how astonishingly beautiful the woods are. We hope that people will feel both more in tune with nature and also feel their own upwelling of creative energy. We hope the trail will lift their spirits.”

This imaginary land is not to be missed while the weather is still warm enough to enjoy being outside and peering around through the woods. It’s an otherworldly joy, and if you have been there before, Goff assures us, “the trail is a work in progress. New pieces are being added all the time, and older pieces are being embellished. We hope that the trail will enchant people and lift them out of the day-to-day so that they can break free of their worries for a moment. It is truly a magical experience.”

The trail is open daily, 10 am to 5 pm, through Thanksgiving weekend. The pottery shop is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 am to 5 pm, or by chance or appointment. For more information and directions to the trail, visit islandfolkpottery.com.