Client: Madison College
Location: Madison, WI, United States
Completion date: 2018
Artwork budget: $25,000
Katherine Steichen Rosing
Public Art Agent
City of Madison
Emeralds to Ashes includes tree sized hand stitched and beaded fabric sculptures suspended in an immersive exhibition commemorating the Ash tree. Students from a local college and elementary school assisted with beading patterns to reveal the life cycle of the Emerald Ash Borer and the beauty of the tiny beetle’s destructive patterns hidden beneath the bark. This exhibition also included large scale scroll drawings which document individual leaves from ash trees of various species, ash bark patterns, borer tunnels, branching patterns, and stumps of felled ash trees. (Funded in part by an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Madison Arts Commission.)
This body of work aims to create a contemplative experience devoted to the Ash Tree and the Emerald Ash Borer that encourages an aesthetic and holistic understanding of nature’s cycles even when the environment is ravaged by invasive species. A tiny iridescent emerald and bronze beetle, the Emerald Ash Borer is toppling millions of ash trees across the United States, transforming neighborhoods and forests across the Midwest. It has arrived full force in Madison, Wisconsin, threatening 80,000 ash trees on public and private lands in the urban area. The city is proactively removing ash trees before they endanger citizens and like numerous communities across the Midwest, people are mourning the loss of favorite neighborhood trees, while deep in our forests ashes are falling in silence.
The roots of this project are deeply embedded in my prior work inspired by forests and trees. Through connections forged with the UW – Madison arboretum, the Wisconsin DNR, and the City of Madison Forestry Division I learned in depth about the crisis facing our ash trees. An Individual Artist Fellowship from the City of Madison partially funded the development of this work and a series of public workshops opened many doors to the project. Seven suspended pieces were sewn and constructed of crushed tulle fabric in my studio to suggest translucent ethereal tree trunks. Extensive hand sewn and beaded patterns abstracted from the life cycle of the emerald ash borer embellish the surface. Sixth grade students from Spring Harbor Middle School collaborated on the project a by adding to the beading and hand stitching as part of their emerald ash borer studies at the MacKenzie Nature Center. Madison College students and staff contributed to the beading process in a series of drop-in workshops. Numerous individuals from the city of Madison allowed me access to their property to create the stump drawings and some contributed roots, bark, and branches from felled trees.
The installation was exhibited in November 2018 at Truax Gallery at Madison College, in Madison, Wisconsin and components have traveled for exhibitions in other locations. I am currently seeking venues for a traveling exhibition and a permanent home for this body of work.