New Sculptures Breathe Fresh Life into Four Dying Trees

The sixth annual Chicago Tree Project, a collaboration of the Chicago Park District and Chicago Sculpture International (CSI), yielded four new tree sculptures gracing Chicago public parks in 2019.

The Chicago Tree Project was started in 2014 when the Chicago Park District was faced with the question of what to do with thousands of trees that had been infected with the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive insect encouraged by climate change that has been destroying millions of trees in North America for the last ten years.  The Park District approached Chicago Sculpture International (CSI), and together they created a program that would give some of these sick and dying trees a second life as a work of vibrant public art.

Over the years, artists have addressed the trees in a variety of methods, with traditional carving and various media that have been integrated into the trees.  The resulting tree sculptures have been wide ranging in subject matter as well, addressing scientific, spiritual and environmental themes.  These sculptures offer unique and often unexpected encounters for visitors to Chicago parks.  As long as they remain secure, the transformed trees remain standing. Seven of the tree sculptures have been de-installed in the interest of public safety.

Here’s a look at the newest Chicago Tree Project artworks.

Irene Hoppenberg
Lemon Tree
Lincoln Park
“My tree sculpture in Chicago is part of a series of various lemon trees which I have realized in the past. Lemons have a special meaning for me. I live in a northern country (Germany), and there, lemons are a symbol for the longing for the south, the sun and the light. My lemon tree in Lincoln Park is close to North Avenue each. This proximity to the beach provides a southern flair in summer and will remind people in winter of the coming spring.

“I hope that my tree sculpture brings joy to visitors to Lincoln Park but also serves as a visual comment how climate change could influence the natural environment and change its vegetation. The future of all living beings is the responsibility of each individual human and is defined by his actions.”

Anthony Heinz May
La Gioconda
Columbus Park
“Wisps of cubed block chains from woody material of a rotted and dying ash tree are reminiscent of singular human hair strands that might otherwise signify a frazzled, sick or unhealthy condition. The parody provides a dying aesthetic as found within ash trees, where what was once considered beautiful has succumbed to a slow death by infestation of the emerald ash borer. This sculpture simultaneously allows for death and demise of natural aestheticism while claiming a wholly human constructed one. In continuing direct blasphemy of Leonardo Da Vinci and his masterpiece (the Mona Lisa, otherwise known as La Gioconda), which is constantly appropriated for advertising and constant reinvention by modern lore for materialism—this sculpture from a dying tree is yet another example of conceptual theft of Da Vinci in title.”

Jonathan Schork
Thalidomide #12
Midway Plaisance Park
“Following up on tree-carving work I did in the Florida Keys during the ‘90s & ‘00s (partly inspired by the Ewing book, “The Body,” I was interested in creating the latest in a series called Thalidomide, this one number 12 in the series. The trunk and major branches are reduced to create a hand with fingers that have the appearance of a limb influenced by the pregnancy drug thalidomide, the concept being two-fold: 1. by questioning subjective notions of the beautiful and the grotesque, thereby destigmatizing anatomical deformities & amputations with a sculpture that celebrates unconventional morphology; and, 2. to continue to draw attention to the deleterious biological effects of drugs, toxins, and environmental pollutants on humanity, and especially on children and the poor.”

Susanne Ruoff
The Second Skin
Shedd Park
“A tree has died. It has lost all its leaves. With the project The Second Skin, it gets new leaves that cover and protect the old trunk.  The new leaves are cut from wood planks. This wood, too, has once been part of a living tree. Together with the dead tree, they create something new, something that hasn’t been there before.”


Visit the Chicago Tree Project’s website.

CSI Sets March 6 Deadline for 2020 Proposals
Chicago Sculpture International, in collaboration with the Chicago Park District, is seeking experienced artists and artist teams to give dying trees in Chicago parks new life. This RFP seeks an experienced artist (or artist team) to turn the tree into a sculpture:  beautiful, original, unique works of art that will become a distinguishing feature in the neighborhood. The approach can be additive and/or subtractive. The trees will be approximately 16-30 ft. tall and may include main side branches.

Artists will be paid a stipend of $3,500 upon completion of the tree sculpture.

Learn more about CSI’s Chicago Tree Project submission guidelines.