Clad in worn jeans and a flannel shirt that suggest a familiar comfort with the outdoors, Rik Sargent walks across his Santa Fe art district studio to a clay sculpture in progress. “Go ahead,” he says to the crowd gathered for a First Friday art walk. “Dig your thumbs into it.” And some do, poking at the still-damp mud—perhaps feeling the same reverence Sargent does when he works with the raw material.

Here, in what he refers to as his “magic clubhouse,” the sculptor, 60, has turned his respect for the Earth into art. More than a dozen of Sargent’s pieces punctuate the Front Range, including the pack of bronze wolves outside the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and Cherry Creek North’s I Too Know the Eagle, which depicts a man with an eagle bursting from his chest.

Sargent is using his latest large-scale installation as public service. One World, One Water is a 3,000-pound bronze, water droplet–shaped sculpture that represents diverse ecosystems coming together as one. The piece is the namesake for Metropolitan State College of Denver’s new One World One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship, which will offer a minor in water studies beginning in fall 2012. On May 2, Sargent will reveal the sculpture in front of Metro’s Tivoli Student Union. “Science and art,” he says. “They’re two wings, but one bird.”