Hidden Gem

Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky

Fall and its cool sweater weather provide the perfect oppor-tunity for getting outside and exploring the many treasures that bless our neck of the woods. If you find yourself having a free weekend afternoon this autumn, you won’t want to miss one such treasure that makes our area unique – this issue’s hidden gem, the Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky.

Located under an immense canopy of trees behind the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA, located at 2110 Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh) – the largest museum campus in America – awaits what many say resembles a “hobbit house” and conjures images of fairy tales and medieval times. But in fact, the approximately 12-foot round building that is constructed of stone, wood, and turf with a single door is the creation of British artist Chris Drury. Once you venture inside (and after the few minutes it will take for your eyes to adjust to the darkness), you’ll discover you are in an oversized camera obscura – meaning the pinhole camera on the roof projects an inverted image of the sky, clouds, and trees on the Chamber’s floor, turning one’s perspective upside down.

Described by Drury, the Cloud Chamber, “partly built under ground, beneath some large trees on a wooded slope in the grounds of the North Carolina Museum of Art, is the first in a series commissioned for the Museum’s outdoor sculpture trail … The work has a 14' interior diameter and is built of dry stone with a notched octagon domed log roof which is turfed on the outside. Inside, the walls and floor are rendered in white cement and via an aperture in the ceiling, the image of the surrounding trees are projected across the walls and floor upside down. The trees have the look of roots hanging inside the dark underground chamber.”

He also stated that “The idea is that from the outside, it is an object that blends with its surroundings; but when you go inside and your eyes adjust to the dark, the image of sky and trees appears on the walls and floor. This is really a strange, meditative experience. It is a bit like being under the ground where the sky is revealed. I like this idea of an altered dream image, which turns reality on its head.”


– The Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky is located in the NCMA’s 164-acre Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park. To reach the Chamber, park in the nearby lot, then stroll down the trail into the field, cross the stream, and continue into the woods until you descend upon the dome-shaped building. If you happen to get lost, simply look for it on the park map, available online or in print from the Information Desk.

– The best time to visit the Chamber is on a bright, sunny afternoon. If you’re seeking images of the leaves and branches, then the summer months are the best time to visit. For cloud images, it’s best to go on a windy, partly cloudy autumn or winter day (especially after the leaves have fallen).

– The Museum Park is open daily, including holidays, from dawn to dusk. Admission to the Park is free.