Seattle artist John Grade has reproduced a North Bend-area tree for a new exhibit, Middle Fork, opening this Sunday at MadArt, 325 Westlake North, in Seattle.
The unusual project took more than a year to make, and the help of many volunteers. It will end in the forest where it began, with a 140-year-old Western Hemlock tree.
More than a year ago, Grade and his team scaled the 85-foot living tree to take plaster casts of the trunk and limbs. He then used the molds to assemble the sculpture, from hundreds of thousands of individual wood pieces, each individually shaped to fit within the whole.
With salvaged old-growth cedar blocks, no thicker than the annual growth ring of a tree, he and volunteers pieced together a hollow, light-filled armature that holds the exact shape of the tree, suspended horizontally at eye level, with limbs radiating outward towards the floor, walls, and ceiling.
“John’s goal was to have people volunteer and directly participate, bringing them into closer conversation with the intricacies of the tree he experienced at the North Bend site,” said founder of MadArt, Alison Milliman.
“Some of the volunteers walked in off the street to sign up. We have had students, tech workers, families, and art collectors. The process is social, open to view, and open to anyone who wants to join in,” she added.
While the sculpture has come to life over the last 12 months, the original tree has outgrown the plaster armature.
After the sculpture is exhibited at MadArt, through April 25, it will travel to museums, including the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., and then it will return to the base of the living tree from which the mold was taken. There, the sculpture will gradually moss over and disintegrate into the ground.
This idea is central to Grade’s artistic practice. His work is often created to decay and change over time, interacting with their environments and sometimes disappearing altogether.
The Middle Fork public opening will be from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25, at MadArt, 325 Westlake North, in Seattle.
Grade creates large-scale sculptures that are exhibited internationally. His projects are designed to change over time and often involve large groups of people to collaboratively build, install and move from one location to another. His 65-foot sculpture Wawona is permanently installed at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, where it breaks through the floor and ceiling of the building, bridging a view from the water below the building to the sky above.
He is currently working on a three-year project documenting and modeling changing landforms above the Arctic Circle.
‘Middle Fork’ artist John Grade
A trunk section of the ‘Middle Fork’ sculpture.