Chicago Sculptors Turn Dying Trees into Works of Art

Chicago Sculptors Turn Dying Trees into Works of Art

In Chicago, a dying tree is art. 

That’s not a metaphor, but rather the inspiration behind the Chicago Tree Project, which since May has transformed several dying trees in the city’s parks into organic sculptures. 

“The Park District is dealing with taking down a bunch of dying trees for various reasons,” Chicago Park District special projects assistant Carolyn Bendel says in a video announcing the initiative. “After talking to artists about what possibly we could do to them, this sort of came about.” 

The project began in late 2013 when 10 artists were selected through Chicago Sculpture International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing “the understanding and creation of sculpture as a unique and vital contribution to society.”

The artists have spent the past several months transforming dead trees in 10 Chicago parks. Artist Margot McMahon is currently at work sculpting several ash trees infected by the emerald ash borer into chess pieces along the west side of Lakeshore Drive at Belmont Avenue. The natural artistic installation is called “Checkmate.” 

McMahon is the head of the committee overseeing this project, and she says the sculptures have been well received by the communities near the parks.

"The artist have enjoyed the positive reaction from the neighbors of the parks," she says. "There seems to be a strong connection between people and trees.  When the trees are removed, the neighbors are affected.  Park visitors were very excited to see artists making something in the trees."  

RELATED: Preventative Emerald Ash Borer Treatment Saves 5,000 Ash Trees in Chicago

The Chicago Tree Project artists used traditional carving methods and mixed media to give new life to trees that otherwise would have been cut down. The trees were chosen in geographically diverse areas of the city to expose as many different people to the art as possible.

“The Chicago Park District strives to integrate art and nature in many ways to enhance the experience of public spaces,” says Michael Kelly, General Superintendent of the Chicago Park District. “This project builds on the city’s reputation for great public art, and brings the work of local sculptors to a wide array of neighborhoods throughout the city.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the diversity in locations is a keystone of the project.

“Chicago is one of the world’s greatest arts and culture capitals, and every Chicagoan should have the opportunity to experience art and culture, no matter their zip code," he says.

For a map of Chicago Tree Project sculptures, check here.

Do you have dying trees that need removed at your home? Consult our tree care and services guide.