Cloud Chamber @ North Carolina Museum of Art NCMA

November, 27, 2008, by Mark

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In case it hasn’t been beaten into your brain yet, the North Carolina Museum of Art boasts the largest art museum campus in the US. There are 164 acres of varied terrain with hills, ecological trails, greenway, streams, woods and fields, with temporary and permanent works of art throughout. Come and bike, walk, run, explore or lay on a blanket in the sunshine. The NCMA has some amazing works of art in its permanent collection, and often has very interesting temporary exhibitions. The museum also hosts indoor and outdoor film series, and live outdoor music and theatrical performances. The new museum building, designed by Thomas Phifer, is under construction. Once it is finished, it will be one of the most cutting edge gallery spaces in the country. 

Learn more about this invaluable resource to North Carolina’s capital city on New Raleigh.


Tucked back into the woods off the Reedy Creek Greenway is the NCMA’s Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky by Chris Drury, a British artist who has completed commissioned works all over the world. The Cloud Chamber is a camera obscura device that projects the sky and trees onto the interior surface of this small grotto-like structure.

Martha Jackson-Jarvis’ Crossroads/Trickster sculpture, the tall mosaic of colored Italian glass tiles, orange and red carnelian stones and shattered bricks, marks the path to the small building. Take the trail down into the field, cross the stream and continue on up into the woods to this small wood and stone dome. Once inside the chamber, allow a few minutes for your eyes to adjust. A cone of light, let in from a pinhole compression ring at the pinnacle of the dome, projects an image into the space from directly overhead in this cool, damp and otherwise completely pitch-black chamber.

The best time to visit the Cloud Chamber is on a bright, sunny afternoon. The tree-cover in the summer projects a more shaded image of the leaves and branches. If you are seeking clouds, windy and partly cloudly autumn or winter days after the leaves have fallen are best.

Artist’s Statement:

Partly built under ground, beneath some large trees on a wooded slope in the grounds of the North Carolina Museum Of Art, the work is the first in a series commissioned for the Museums outdoor sculpture trail. The piece was also commissioned to coincide with the opening of their exhibition ‘Defying Gravity’, a show commemorating The Centenary Wright brothers first flight.

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 down inside the dark underground chamber.

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NCMANorth Carolina Museum of Art


  • Todd Morman
    11/28 12:46 AM

    Neat post; the Cloud Chamber is one of those not-so-hidden-but-mostly-overlooked local gems. It’s a really meditative spot (sit for longer than a minute or two and it gets even more beautiful), and is a fascinating experience despite the simple physics involved. All of the sculptures on the NCMA trail make a great afternoon walk for visiting relatives.

  • Joy Duncan
    03/02 04:21 PM

    Why is the cloud chamber locked?

  • Melissa
    02/23 09:23 PM

    I have not overcome my fear of claustrophobia :).  Yet.

    I spent my summers in Oklahoma and have been taken to THE “storm cellar” on several occasions (hence fear of enclosure:)!  due to impending tornadoes.

    After my eyes adjusted, I was in awe of the movement of the sun, clouds, and trees. I began to relax and enjoyed a magnificent “ride”.  Wonderful! 

    I will go back and stay longer next time.


    Thank you for such a beautiful creation!

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