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The Osprey Shower
A Man of Many Talents Barney Zeitz

by Amelia Smith

An outdoor shower can be a utilitarian way to hose off after the beach,or it can be a work of art. The form flies to new heights with Barney Zeitz’s recent creation. A stainless steel osprey soars out of a nest of foliage, clutching a fish which serves as the shower head. Water gushes from its mouth into the spiraled concrete enclosure below. There’s a stainless steel shelf and sculpted towel hooks into the wall – the space is useful, as well as decorative.

Barney works with Michael Craughwell, an experienced welder and professional swordsmith. A few years previous, they built a sculptural shower at another up-island residence.

There, the plumbing is housed in a stainless steel tree, arching overhead. A laticework fence, covered in vines, conceals the shower area. The client for this project saw that shower, and had also admired Barney’s osprey sculpture, on display in front of the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury. “She said, wouldn’t it be great to have a shower that’s an osprey and have the water coming out of the fish,” Barney says. “I said, it would have to be a really big fish, but you know, ospreys can catch a big fish like that, it’s pretty amazing.”

They combined these ideas, along with some new elements, beside the pool at the client’s up-Island home. Initially, the shower was to be placed at the furthest end of the pool apron, away from the house. Instead, Barney sited it near the driveway, bermed into a wide-spreading forsythia bush. “The forsythia will be trimmed back so that the osprey is visible from the driveway approach to the house. It looks like it’s landing into the bush,” Barney says.

The design process began with a series of three charcoal drawings, exploring the osprey’s form and combining the various elements in different ways. The osprey is slightly larger than life-size, with a 54” wingspan. “I started with an armature of stainless steel rods,” Barney says. “Most figurative metal sculpture that looks real is made from plaster or wax and cast at a foundry, but this is all built by hand.” Barney works by cutting and welding pieces of steel together, from the frame to individual feathers on the wings. He builds and shapes the steel by welding on and grinding back to attain organic shapes while working with the steel itself.

For the enclosure, Barney suggested the cement spiral because it’s an organic form which creates a private enclosure with no need for a door. “I had no idea how much work it was going to be,” Barney says. The wall around the shower is two and a half inches thick and about seven and a half feet high. “I thought it was going to be ten bags of cement, it was more like forty-five.” He and Michael mixed it in a wheelbarrow by hand, one 80-pound bag after another. “I have to say, it was pretty crazy.” Underneath, a mahogany floor sits on gravel, for drainage.

Once the wall was in place, the next challenge was to blend it into the landscape, to soften the texture of the new concrete while celebrating its organic form. Matt Flanders of Beetlebung Tree Care took charge of the plantings around the shower. “We wanted to add some color and to fade into that huge forsythia berm behind it, to make it look like the osprey was rising out of a jungle, not a chunk of concrete.” For this first season, morning glories climbed up the walls. “They’re so aggressive, they start doing the work almost immediately,” Matt says. Matt and his crew finished the plantings just before the Fourth of July weekend. By the end of the summer, the vines needed to be trimmed back. For the longer term they’ve planted slower-growing perennials including Boston ivy, honeysuckle, and roses.

In spring, the steel osprey will spread its wings over a cloud of golden forsythia blossoms, a fish always in its grasp, linking the enclosure beneath with the sky above, where real osprey circle, seeking their own catch. It’s a work of art, and yes, it’s also a place to rinse off after a swim.