The Chicago Tree Project: Transforming Trees in Chicago's Parks
Artist Anthony Heinz May is covered in sawdust in the basement wood shop at the Lincoln Park Cultural Center. He’s spent the last several days methodically cutting branches from a Jackson Park tree into disks that are then further separated into hundreds of small cubes. After drilling holes into each of these cubes, May will take them back to Jackson Park where the tree will be reassembled piece by piece into a pixelated, exploding version of its former self.
"My appropriations of tree refuse identify as physically pixelated forms reflecting relationships between nature, humans, and technology," says Heinz May. "These sculptures appear as fragmented puzzles that are cubed and rearranged in space."
The arms of the tree twist and wrap around the trunk and then shoot out, dancing and dissolving against the blue sky. This is the Chicago Tree Project.
Each year, the Chicago Park District in partnership with Chicago Sculpture International, puts out a call to artists from Chicago and beyond to transform sick and dying Park District trees into vibrant public art.
Using art as a vessel for public engagement, sculptors make over a variety of trees into fun and whimsical experiences for communities throughout the city. Since the project began in 2014, artists have carved, painted, sculpted, and adorned dozens of trees that would have otherwise been cut down.
You may be wondering, why are there so many dead and dying trees in Chicago’s parks? The largest killer of Park District trees are an invasive beetle called the Emerald Ash Borer. The Emerald Ash Borer gets its name from its emerald color and its taste for Ash trees. The beetles’ larvae get under the bark of trees and eat and infect them, creating intricate patterns while they do so.
The Chicago Park District has been working hard to cut down dead Ash trees and plant new trees in their place. But, rather than cutting them all down, some are saved so they can live a new life as public art!