Seattle resident artist Tom Overhousen explains his recent project
Generally when I’m moving through the forest, I’m drawn to relationships between trees or entire stands of trees, and looking at the way in which they are interconnected.
For this project, the “Upper Spoon” Endeavor, I decided I wanted to draw in and study just a single tree.
For that tree I chose a roughly 150-year-old Babcock. I chose it both for its shape and for its scale, but also because it’s so ubiquitous in the Northwest forest.
Making a plaster cast of an entire 140-foot tree certainly isn’t a practical decision, but in this case it was a very rewarding experience.
After protecting the tree, my team and I were up in the tree for nearly two weeks. And over that period of time, we were afforded, kind of, an intimacy with the tree
where we learned all of these nuances that we certainly might not have come across by just passing by.
We were able to see the way in which limbs might turn in a direction that you wouldn’t have expected, the way they would fan out as a kind of patterned group toward light in the canopy.
We would see a wound on the surface of the bark and ultimately each of these little things that we noticed in the tree created a kind of accumulative story that we were able to understand about the tree as it was reflected in its environment.
A big priority for the project was to directly involved as many people as we could in the actual creation of the sculpture. We began in SummitArt studios which has a glass storefront open to public sidewalks.
And we open the doors and put a small sign saying people were welcome to come in and join us. Hundreds of people took us up on this. Some people came in, maybe just for a few hours and contributed, while other people came back as often as a couple times a week throughout the course of the year.
We also set up pop-up workshops in unexpected places so that we would find people who might be interested in volunteering right on the spot.
We did this in the Seattle Art Museum’s Rainier Park pavilion, and we also took another tact where we pre-arranged a visit that we’d set up.
One instance of this was at the Pete’s Coffee headquarters in Downtown Seattle, where we worked on a series of limbs with almost a hundred of their employees over several days.
The wood we use to create the sculptures is Western Red Cedar, and it was salvaged from both an old downed tree, as well as some large logs that had once buttressed an 80-year-old bridge.
The team in my studio served as guides during the process, but ultimately each person that was participating would make their own choices according to how they wanted to build the sculpture against those molds.
They were asked to maintain a certain fidelity to what that mold was, but they would choose the scale, they would shape the part, and they would bond parts together in a way that made sense the them, and in a way that somehow reflected what they found interesting.
The work is continued in our main studio where we’ve become involved in some of the larger choices, in terms of how large sections of the trunk engage one another, and maybe most importantly, the way in which we gapped certain sections and I think that the gaps between sections of the trunk and the limbs offer compelling views into the interior shapes that we might not otherwise get to see.
Refining the sculpture was a very important part of the process.