The forest is an unending source of inspiration for environmental artists Howard and Mary McCoy. On view in the woods at Adkins Arboretum through Sept. 30, their show of site-specific sculptures is called Suggestions because each of its ten works was directly suggested by what they found there. They will lead a sculpture walk during the show’s reception on Sat., June 24 from 3 to 5 p.m.
Since these two Centreville artists first began creating outdoor sculpture at the Arboretum in 1999, their work has become more and more directly inspired by the trees and vines along its shady paths.
“This is our tenth biennial show,” said Mary McCoy. “Over the years, certain places in the forest have become so familiar, they’re like old friends. We want to draw attention to them and help other people to get to know them, too.”
When the artists were walking through the forest this spring planning their show, they stopped at a favorite pine tree unusual for its three trunks. Howard McCoy began to think of “Accumulation,” a sculpture from their 2015 show, in which the artists had suspended a massive pile of branches in the lower branches of a tall pine tree.
“So we created a kind of inversion of that,” he said. “Instead of the branches being tucked around the tree, we inserted branches between the trunks of this triple-trunk pine.”
Although the McCoys rarely use any materials other than the natural ones they find in the forest, two of the show’s works include words either printed on cloth or written directly on a fallen tree.
Mary is both an artist and a writer who has published reviews and articles on art since the 1980s. During a quiet walk alone in the forest, she listened to what the trees might have to tell her. Two short poems came from this visit. One of them, “History of a Tree,” is just four words long: “Earth, Sun, Rain, Wind.”
“I was thinking about what caused this tree to be lying here in the forest,” she explained, “how it grew up from a seed in the ground, matured and finally was blown down.”
The two artists had also wanted to make sculpture with some grapevines swooping high into the trees along a path to the Arboretum’s Nancy’s Meadow. Directly across the path was another site that interested them, a sweetgum tree that vines had pulled down low to the ground in a graceful arch.
“‘Linear Elements (Free Form)’ was suggested by swooping vines that were already there,” Mary said. “We added more long, curving vines. And that sweetgum arch was just begging to be sculpture, so for ‘Linear Elements (Structured),’ we decided to point it out with a row of straight sections of vine that suggest not only architectural elements but also the straight, vertical tree trunks in the forest.”
“It’s interesting how when we’re working in the woods, we’re always using basic art principles,” Howard commented. “All the formal things from drawing class, like balance, composition, texture, movement, all the things we learned in class that now we’re applying out there in the woods.”
“How fortunate we are to get to explore ideas out there,” he added. “We’ve had full support from the Arboretum’s directors over the years, and some of the other programs, certainly the children’s program and the journaling class, have used what we’ve done out there as inspiration. The forest communicates with us through suggestion. All we have to do is pay attention.”
This show is part of Adkins Arboretum’s ongoing exhibition series of work on natural themes by regional artists. It is on view through Sept. 30 at the Arboretum Visitor’s Center located at 12610 Eveland Road near Tuckahoe State Park in Ridgely. Contact the Arboretum at 410–634–2847, ext. 0 or firstname.lastname@example.org for gallery hours.