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Lenoir, NC is home to a large circular, earthcast sculpture with a 26-foot diameter and a weight of 40,000 pounds. World renowned artist Thomas Sayre worked alongside local contractors to construct and erect this piece of art as a testimony to Caldwell County’s history. The piece is meant to resemble the water wheels, turbines, and sawmills that put the industrial advancements of Caldwell County on the map.


  • Across the Grain during the Day.
"ACROSS THE GRAIN by Thomas Sayre." Caldwell Arts Council. Accessed April 02, 2019. https://www.caldwellarts.com/379-across-the-grain-by-thomas-sayre/.
  • Across the Grain at Night
B., John. "Across The Grain - Lenoir, NC." Yelp. November 17, 2015. Accessed April 02, 2019. https://www.yelp.com/biz/across-the-grain-lenoir.
  • Photograph of Thomas Sayre at work.
"About." Thomas Sayre. Accessed April 02, 2019. https://www.thomassayre.com/about.

Across the Grain is a large earthen sculpture located in Downtown Lenoir, NC. The massive circular public art piece was constructed and erected in 2012; it maintains a 26-foot diameter and weighs a total of 40,000 pounds.[1] Artist Thomas Sayre designed the sculpture to resemble a circular hole saw, pointing back to the role that industrialization played in the furniture industry of Caldwell County.[2] It is also meant to reflect the importance that various industrial advancements have played in the county’s history, such as water wheels, turbines, and sawmills.[3] The term “Across the Grain” is taken from the logging industry; by cutting “across the grain”, one is trying something different, standing out, “making a commitment”.[4] Sayre has commented, “The act of bringing this sculpture to Lenoir is going across the grain, and I get the sense there is something unique here.”[5] As a child, the intricate stonecutting of the Washington National Cathedral inspired Sayre to pursue sculpting with natural materials.[6] Sayre and a team of local contractors constructed the sculpture using an earthcasting technique, wherein a mold was created within the earth, concrete was poured in said mold, and finally the hardened material was pulled up from the ground to form the finished product.[7] He has planned and constructed public art projects all around the world; he has also “been part of the design team for civic, educational, and museum buildings.”[8] Sayre has noted that there were three chief reasons why he wanted to construct Across the Grain in Lenoir, NC, “First, it was the landscape itself because I lived nearby for ten years. Second, it was the unusual history of sculpture in this community. And thirdly, I’ve come to have enormous respect for the leadership in this town. For a town this size to elect to raise the money to do a large, prominent and contemporary sculpture in its downtown on city land is unusual. There are communities I have worked with who claim more sophistication who can’t even get out of the starting blocks. I find this inspiring.”[9]


[2] Ibid, 1.

[3] "Z-Sculpture Collection - Across the Grain - About the Name," Caldwell Arts Council, accessed April 02, 2019, https://www.caldwellarts.com/195-about-the-name/.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[7] "Z-Sculpture Collection - Across The Grain Project Overview," Caldwell Arts Council, accessed April 02, 2019, https://www.caldwellarts.com/188-across-the-grain/.

[8] "Across the Grain Project Overview," Www.caldwellartscouncil.com, accessed March 21, 2019, https://www.caldwellarts.com/uploads/file/ACROSS THE GRAIN-Website page(1).pdf, 1.

[9] "Z-Sculpture Collection - Across The Grain - Why Lenoir?," Caldwell Arts Council, accessed April 02, 2019, https://www.caldwellarts.com/196-why-lenoir/.

"Across the Grain Project Overview," Www.caldwellartscouncil.com, accessed March 21, 2019, https://www.caldwellarts.com/uploads/file/ACROSS THE GRAIN-Website page(1).pdf.
"Z-Sculpture Collection - Across the Grain - About the Name," Caldwell Arts Council, accessed April 02, 2019, https://www.caldwellarts.com/195-about-the-name/. 
"Z-Sculpture Collection - Across The Grain Project Overview," Caldwell Arts Council, accessed April 02, 2019, https://www.caldwellarts.com/188-across-the-grain/.
"Z-Sculpture Collection - Across The Grain - Why Lenoir?," Caldwell Arts Council, accessed April 02, 2019, https://www.caldwellarts.com/196-why-lenoir/.