Once again, there is art in the forest at Adkins Arboretum. Branches, eleven sculptures by Centreville artists Howard and Mary McCoy, can be found along the woodland paths through Sept. 15. Their work is also on exhibit in the Arboretum Visitor’s Center through July 31. A public reception on Sat., June 20 from 5 to 7 p.m. will include a sculpture walk through the forest with the artists.
While the Arboretum’s main mission is to promote the appreciation and conservation of the region’s native plants, this 400-acre preserve is also the Eastern Shore’s mecca for environmental art. Where else can cedar branches “dancing” in a circle in a grassy clearing or a maple bough wrapped in plaid flannel be found?
“Art can be really serious when it’s about beauty or environmental issues,” said Mary McCoy. “But art should be fun, too.”
For the tenth summer since 1999, artists have created art in the Arboretum’s landscape. On even-numbered years, a dozen or so artists from around the country are invited to create sculptures on the Arboretum grounds. On the odd-numbered years, the McCoys—who first organized the outdoor sculpture program—work together on sculptures.
Branches is a theme that takes in not only the branches of trees but also the branching paths through the Arboretum and the tributaries of the area’s many waterways, such as the Arboretum’s Blockston Branch. A branch tied with ribbons of blue cloth stands in the middle of this winding stream. Inspired by worldwide traditions of tying cloth or paper in trees for healing or good luck, this sculpture casts blue reflections in the flowing water.
The branches radiating from the trunk of a broken pine inspired another sculpture called “Spiraling.” The artists added a quirky spiral of cedar branches to the dead trunk.
“This is where a battery-powered drill really comes in handy,” said Howard McCoy. “I’d never do this to a live tree, but since this one is dead, I drilled holes in a spiral up the trunk, and we inserted cedar branches. Cedar’s good because it’s strong, and it has really animated shapes. Pine branches would have been too fragile to last all summer.”
This is the sixth time the McCoys have created sculpture at the Arboretum. They see their work as a process of collaborating with the landscape, and over the past decade, they have come to know the forest well. This year, several of their sculptures can be found along the Upland Walk and two of the smaller paths.
“We wanted to bring people down this way, as well as the main path where they usually walk,” said Mary McCoy. “For one thing, there is an amazing three-trunked river birch along here, and we really wanted to point it out.”
To do so, they collected fallen branches from the forest floor and strung them in eight-foot-tall “wings” fanning out from each trunk down to the ground.
The McCoys are intrigued by the way each species of tree grows branches in certain characteristic shapes. Their “personalities” are particularly evident in the indoor section of the show, where actual branches are incorporated into small paintings.
The type of tree gives each painting its particular character. There are the knobs and angles of silvery-barked black walnut, tiny reddish twigs of river birch, and a cluster of stems radiating from one of the ground elder or “highwater” bushes so ubiquitous along the region’s rivers.
Most spectacular of all is a trio of branches the McCoys brought from a dogwood in the Arboretum’s forest that was broken in a winter storm. They spread across one wall, their delicate, curving bud tips hung with the feathers of many different local birds.
“We had created sculptures right near this dogwood when it was still living,” said Howard McCoy. “So we thought we’d use it in a sculpture now. It’s getting so that certain trees and sites in the forest have become old friends.”
This show is part of the Arboretum’s ongoing exhibition series of work on natural themes by regional artists, sponsored in part by Caroline County Council of Arts. The indoor show is on view at the Arboretum Visitor’s Center through July 31, with the outdoor sculpture continuing through September 15. The Arboretum is located at 12610 Eveland Road, adjacent to Tuckahoe State Park near Ridgely. Call 410-634-2847, ext. 0 or e-mail email@example.com for gallery hours.
Adkins Arboretum is a 400-acre native garden and preserve at the headwaters of the Tuckahoe Creek in Caroline County. Open year-round, the Arboretum offers educational programs for all ages about nature and gardening. Through its Campaign to Build a Green Legacy, the Arboretum will build a new LEED-certified Arboretum Center and entranceway to broaden educational offerings and research initiatives promoting best practices in conservation and land stewardship. For additional information about Arboretum programs, visit www.adkinsarboretum.org or call 410-634-2847, ext. 0.