Recently I was feeling stuck on a project and overwhelmed with the annual ritual of tax returns. I decided that what I needed was a strong shot of good art. I had read in the paper about an interesting sculpture being assembled near Lake Union at MadArt, a new non-profit art space, so on a Saturday morning I headed off to find it.
Looking into the base and through the form of Middle Fork sculpture by artist John Grade
Thank goodness my cell phone has a good camera so I can share John Grade's Middle Fork with you. Middle Fork consists of thousands of tiny blocks of repourposed cedar carefully cut by hand and glued together over a plaster cast of a living tree. The cast was made by covering the standing tree, section by section first with aluminum foil and then with cheesecloth dipped in plaster. Grade and his assistants literally hung by ropes during the two weeks it took to cast the 140 year old hemlock tree near North Bend, Washington. For more images of the process, check out this link: http://madartseattle.com/exhibits/middle-fork/
Lower section of Middle Fork
Upper section of Middle Fork
In this image you can see the many stainless steel cables that suspend the 700 pound sculpture.
The gluing process, which is still going on, was accomplished over several months with hundreds of volunteers who carefully fit each tiny block of cedar, all approximately 1/4 thick, to fit over sections of the plaster cast of the tree.
Detail of glueing process. Notice the spaces between the tiny cedar blocks.
Detail of branches suspended.
After glueing, the entire surface of the sculpture was sanded smooth inside and out. The individual sections were then suspended by steel cables to form a see-through horizontal tree. The effect of so many stacked blocks with spaces in between is of weightless wood lace. The whole form, about as long as 3 minivans, appears to breathe as if it were alive. The variations in wood color and patterns add to the overall beauty. Standing next to and walking around the sculpture so that you can see into and through the form is the best way to relate to the scale and appreciate the enormity and delicacy of Middle Fork.
Looking inside the huge base.
Enhancing the whole experience of the piece is a video chronicling the construction process.
Middle Fork will leave Seattle soon to travel to London, Hong Kong and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian. After two years on the road, Grade will lie it on the ground near the original tree and watch it moss over and fall apart over time, continuing this conversation with Nature.
Looking through the base toward the top.
There isn't much more time to see this amazing structure in Seattle. It is only up through April 25. MadArt is open Wednesday-Saturday 11-5 or by appointment. The address is 329 Westlake, on the west side of the street, north of Whole Foods and south of Republican. Don't miss this one.