Morton Arboretum art exhibit celebrates tree forms

The Morton Arboretum treasures trees with an open mind.

A diverse selection of 11 artists from around the world will interpret their feelings in ways beyond limbs and leaves, unrestricted by the dimensions of a frame in “Nature Unframed: Art at the Arboretum.” The contemporary art exhibit opens May 20 at the outdoor museum and continues until Nov. 27.

“Art is a powerful lens through which to view and interpret the natural world and develop an appreciation for everything trees do for us and the planet,” said Leslie Goddard, Morton Arboretum's exhibit developer. “We hope these unique, creative expressions of nature will introduce audiences to the power of art as a way to think about and engage with the natural world.”

Each artist chose a specific tree or favored site that inspired them at the arboretum for their creative work.

Juan Angel Chavez

Artist Juan Angel Chavez is known for his large-scale, interactive sculptures with found materials. The award-winning Chicagoan, originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, is a faculty member in sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He received the prestigious Louis Comfort Tiffany Award and the Tree Arts Chicago honor. His commissions are seen throughout the city and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

“Through my art, I like to create an interesting layer for conversation or to encourage thought,” Chavez said. “At the arboretum, my work will focus on creating a chamber for isolation and contemplation involving a tree.”

Chavez's work takes on different shapes based on the use of everyday objects. His design at the arboretum, “Jimshoe,” will be an observation of nature featuring a series of abstract forms surrounding a tree's trunk and branches.

“I find the tension between man-made and nature interesting,” Chavez said. “It is a battle of permanence and I am rooting for nature to win.”

Joan Giroux

Artist Joan Giroux from Wilmette remembers the peace and protection she felt as a child sitting in the crook of a backyard tree where she spent time watching leaves dance in the wind.

“I have always been fascinated by the abstractions created by tree branches and leaves seen against the sky,” said Giroux, a faculty member of Columbia College in Chicago.

Giroux works in kinetic sculpture, digital photomontage and handmade objects. Her work reflects an interest in human interactions and relationships. She often juxtaposes incongruous and symmetrical forms.

For the Morton Arboretum, Giroux created interactive art titled “(out)looking, (re)framing” with a long teleidoscope placed near Meadow Lake.

“My intent is that when viewers peer through the teleidoscope, they will see a composition of fragments made whole into a beautiful colored abstract composition based on the colors, shapes and hues of the landscape at that moment in time,” Giroux said. “Viewers will frame and find wonder in different aspects of the landscape.”

Carol Hummel

Fiber artist Carol Hummel highlights environmental and social issues through her work. The Ohio artist taught herself to crochet and uses innovative techniques in rainbow-bright colors to achieve her results.

“Tree Cozy,” a custom-made crocheted tree blanket, took 500 hours to complete.

“The cozy softens the strong tree form while emphasizing it,” Hummel said. “It simultaneously caresses and encases the tree, fluctuating between a comforting blanket and a suffocating cover-up.”

A few months ago, Hummel was in India to bring attention to the value of water through her work. She says her art surprises and delights people of all ages across the globe and often starts some interesting and thoughtful conversation.

“The brightly colored crocheted cozies seem to touch a place deep within peoples' psyches and evoke memories of times when life was good and the future was full of hope and promise,” Hummel said. “Trees beautify our earth while providing us with oxygen through photosynthesis, shade to protect us from the sun, wood to provide warmth and shelter, and habitats for birds and insects. In return, it is our obligation to nurture and protect the trees.”

Hummel's creative piece at the arboretum will be called “lichen it!” on a tree roughly 35 feet tall.

Larry King

Glen Ellyn native Larry King's art is a visual statement of his time and experiences. He is inspired by the beauty of bamboo, a strong, thick, renewable wood that can reach a height of 70 feet. He hopes his work will inspire others to save endangered trees.

Based in Asheville, N.C., King studied sculpture first at the College of DuPage, St. Xavier University and then the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Twice the artist won first-prize for sculpture at the College of DuPage Student Juried Art Exhibit.

King says each of his art installations is site-specific and designed to perpetuate and accelerate life. With multiple materials, he achieves his visual ideas in many ways including heating, cementing, painting, bending and assembling.

“During construction a dialogue takes place,” King said. “When I listen and observe attentively, the residual effect is achieved, sometimes beyond my original plans. I compose spaces that invite the viewer to spend time exploring spatial relationship, as their eyes move from space to place.”

For the arboretum, King will do “Celebranch” at roughly 20 feet in height.

Philippa Lawrence

English artist Philippa Lawrence studied fine printmaking at the Royal College of Art in London. She delights in taking art out of a gallery and into the public realm.

When a child, Lawrence enjoyed climbing trees, but now she likes to walk among them. She is concerned about the erosion of natural habitats that support trees and other forms of life.

This year, Lawrence spent time studying orchards in Hereford, England, and described the linear plantings “like ranks of soldiers.” Earlier she traveled the Wales countryside wrapping majestic dead trees in cloth — one in pale blue with red tips, another in yellow cotton. She said this draws attention to the tree as a sculptural form.

Lawrence uses multiples and repetition in her art. Her work reflects the importance of space, pattern, place, time and play when placed in the proper setting. “Bound, V-57” at the arboretum will celebrate a 35-foot tree.

“Just as a long-term friendship carries conversations over time, so certain ideas re-occur to me, then grow, develop and change,” said Lawrence. “I have a deep interest in place, what it is and how an individual may experience it.”

Regine Lehmann

French artist Regine Lehmann specializes in photographic journeys and monumental installations. She is an educator and anthropologist who worked many years in Africa and France. In the 1990s, her art centered on a tree as the heart of her creations and research. She hopes by revealing natural beauty to instill in the viewer a respect for living trees.

Lehmann chose the arboretum's elm collection with its natural cathedral-like canopy for her art “Soul of the Trees.” For the site-specific sculpture, Lehmann will use about 100 sheets of a fine supple veneer that she calls her “favorite and a live partner of my art works.”

Lehmann draws her energy from living nature and conveys both emotions and feelings of amazement and marvel.

“The most important point to me is that the whole shape, no matter how wide it could be, and the sheets of veneer I have selected for creating it are coinciding — one could say ‘co-dancing' — and highlighting together the lightness, apparent vulnerability and nearly immaterial being of such a work,” said Lehmann.

Thomas Matsuda

Massachusetts-based artist Thomas Matsuda brings a culmination of all his experiences and ideas to his work. He studied at Pratt Institute in New York concentrating on drawing, painting and printing. He then traveled with a group of Japanese Buddhist monks on a Peace pilgrimage walking across the United States for six months and spent time with the Navajo in Arizona.

Matsuda lived for 12 years in Japan, apprenticed to a famous sculptor, and spent another 10 years in a remote mountain village carving wood and stone sculptures for various temples, shrines, businesses and patrons.

In 1995, Matsuda returned to America to merge Eastern and Western ideas in his contemporary art. Fire, air, water, earth and space are natural elements in his work as he connects his art to the natural and human environment.

Two major art works at the Peace Pagoda in Grafton, N.Y., and the Peace Pagoda in Leverett, Mass., have attracted high acclaim. One is an eight-ton seated, smiling Buddha in a meticulous reverent style.

“My experiences with Buddhism and Native American spirituality strongly influence my work with their close ties to nature,” Matsuda said. “Each time, my work evolves with the situation, site, inspiration and materials.”

For the arboretum, Matsuda will create “Purification” in two tall and four small pieces.

Gail Simpson and Aristotle Georgiades

Actual Size Artworks is the collaborative work of Wisconsin artists Gail Simpson and Aristotle Georgiades. The pair draws inspiration from their rural property and their role as stewards of the land and trees. They often use logs and salvaged wood in their site-specific sculptures.

The artists see trees at the arboretum as an enormous gift to the community, even ones that fall or need to be removed for the general well-being of other trees. A recurring theme in their art is the way trees are used as a product or resource for so many things we use every day, and may take for granted.

Actual Size's 10-foot-by-12-foot art work at the arboretum will be entitled “The Gift.”

“We do a lot of site research, visiting a site at different times of the day and year, photographing and observing,” Simpson said. “We have paid many visits to the Morton Arboretum.”

Letha Wilson

Presently, Letha Wilson is an artist-in-residence at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Neb.

Being born in Honolulu and raised in Greeley, Colo., gave Wilson an appreciation for natural beauty. She majored in painting at Syracuse University, studied at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland and earned a masters of fine arts at Hunter College.

Wilson is a mixed-media artist working in photography, sculpture and compositions. She uses discarded materials from nature as a starting point and adds her own contemporary interpretations.

The Brooklyn-based artist uses sculptural elements that coincide with nature and architecture to invite the viewer to participate in her outdoor art.

Wilson's work at the arboretum, “Wall in Blue Ash Tree,” will feature a 16-foot canvas with tree branches protruding to create a three-dimensional painting/sculpture.

“My work creates relationships between architecture and nature, and the gallery space and the American wilderness,” Wilson said.

You Are Beautiful

A simple message is the artwork of an anonymous collective group of artists. In bold block letters, fancy sprawled script and small cling-on stickers, the message has gone worldwide with no one stepping forward to take credit.

Three little words of 15 letters will convey to visitors what everyone should already know. Large, small, young, old, in all colors and shapes, individuals are beautiful. Perhaps this is the one installation that will cause the most visitors to step back and question: What exactly is art?

The arboretum's installation features 4-foot-by-8-foot letters.

Theodoros Zafeiropoulos

Theodoros Zafeiropoulos is a young Greek visual artist and Fulbright scholar who opens his creative process to the unexpected by experimenting with altered materials and reorganization. He studied at the Fine Arts School at Aristoteleian University in Greece, the School of Visual Arts in New York and University of Thessalia in Greece. His expressive art was displayed recently at the Hellenic-American Union in Athens, where he lives and works.

Zafeiropoulos' creative depictions are interpretations of the relationship between science, technology and nature. His “real ideas” occur with a starting point and options to reach the end. For the arboretum, “How Far Have We Gone” will cover 400 feet along Meadow Lake.

“My intention is to use more media and become familiar with rare techniques and formal experimentation that has its roots in my constant curiosity to research elements and enrich my art,” Zafeiropoulos said. “The primary material through continuous transformation becomes a tool and carries many and diverse human and natural characteristics.”

General information

All art installations are located within a short walk from the arboretum's visitors center. The exhibit is free with arboretum admission.

The Morton Arboretum is located at 4100 Route 53 in Lisle near the I-88 interchange. It is open daily from 7 a.m. to sunset. For details, visit

Ÿ Joan Broz writes about Lisle. Email her at

Artist Juan Angel Chavez plans to build “Jimshoe” around a living tree at the Morton Arboretum as part of the “Nature Unframed” exhibit running May through November. Courtesy of Juan Angel Chavez
Larry King, a Glen Ellyn native, plans a 20-foot-tall, tree-inspired sculpture titled “Celebranch.” Courtesy of Larry King
Bound, V-57 by Philippa Lawrence will celebrate a 35-foot tree at the arboretum. Photo by Alex Ramsay/Courtesy of Philippa Lawrence
French artist Regine Lehmann plans to use 100 sheets of fine veneer to create “Soul of the Trees” in the arboretum’s elm collection. Courtesy of Regine Lehmann
Thomas Matsuda incorporates influences from Japanese Buddhism and Native American culture. His work, “Purification,” will include two tall and four small pieces. Courtesy of Thomas Matsuda
Artists Gail Simpson and Aristotle Georgiades, who work together as Actual Size, have visited the Morton Arboretum at different times of day and in different seasons as they planned “The Gift” for the “Nature Unframed” exhibit. Courtesy of Actual Size
Letha Wilson’s “Wall in Blue Ash Tree” will put a 16-foot canvas around the branches to turn a tree into a living 3-D painting/sculpture. Courtesy of Letha Wilson
Artistic installations of the words “You Are Beautiful” pop up unexpectedly with no artist stepping forward to take credit. The message will adorn a hillside throughout the arboretum exhibit. Courtesy of Anonymous
“How Far Have We Gone” will cover more than 400 feet in the arboretum’s Meadow Lake. Courtesy of Theodoros Zafeiropoulos

If you go

What: “Nature Unframed: Art at the Arboretum,” featuring 11 large nature-themed installations

When: 7 a.m. to sunset May 20 to Nov. 27

Where: Morton Arboretum, 4100 Route 53, Lisle

Details: All pieces will be within walking distance of the visitor center

Cost: Free with admission of $11 for adults, $10 for seniors, $8 for ages 2 to 17, free for younger children and members

Info: or (630) 968-0074