Trees, roots become art in Naperville

 
 
Updated 7/12/2016 10:38 PM
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  • Artist Jenny Kendler of Chicago explains the significance of upended tree roots in her piece "See the Forest (For the Trees)" at Knoch Knolls Nature Center in Naperville.

      Artist Jenny Kendler of Chicago explains the significance of upended tree roots in her piece "See the Forest (For the Trees)" at Knoch Knolls Nature Center in Naperville. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Artist Jenny Kendler of Chicago, center, oversees installation of a 500-plus-pound blue spruce root plate Tuesday while she puts together an art installation called "See the Forest (For the Trees)" at Knoch Knolls Nature Center in Naperville.

      Artist Jenny Kendler of Chicago, center, oversees installation of a 500-plus-pound blue spruce root plate Tuesday while she puts together an art installation called "See the Forest (For the Trees)" at Knoch Knolls Nature Center in Naperville. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Federico Flores of Bartlett Tree Experts lifts more than 500 pounds of upended tree roots with a Bobcat minitruck to be placed in an artistic planting called "See the Forest (For the Trees)" at the Knoch Knolls Nature Center in Naperville.

      Federico Flores of Bartlett Tree Experts lifts more than 500 pounds of upended tree roots with a Bobcat minitruck to be placed in an artistic planting called "See the Forest (For the Trees)" at the Knoch Knolls Nature Center in Naperville. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Leaves will help visitors to artist Jenny Kendler's artistic planting of seven trees at Knoch Knolls Nature Center in Naperville decode a secret message she spelled by giving each type of tree a letter in a code.

      Leaves will help visitors to artist Jenny Kendler's artistic planting of seven trees at Knoch Knolls Nature Center in Naperville decode a secret message she spelled by giving each type of tree a letter in a code. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Artist Jenny Kendler of Chicago helps plant seven trees and place two upended tree root tables Tuesday into a piece called "See the Forest (For the Trees)" at Knoch Knolls Nature Center in Naperville. The installation is expected to remain all summer, if not longer, and be one of the highlights of Nature Art Week from Aug. 6 to 14.

      Artist Jenny Kendler of Chicago helps plant seven trees and place two upended tree root tables Tuesday into a piece called "See the Forest (For the Trees)" at Knoch Knolls Nature Center in Naperville. The installation is expected to remain all summer, if not longer, and be one of the highlights of Nature Art Week from Aug. 6 to 14. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • Artist Jenny Kendler of Chicago moves turf away from one of seven trees in an artistic planting designed to teach visitors to Knoch Knolls Nature Center in Naperville about the importance of healthy trees and healthy tree roots in preventing climate change.

      Artist Jenny Kendler of Chicago moves turf away from one of seven trees in an artistic planting designed to teach visitors to Knoch Knolls Nature Center in Naperville about the importance of healthy trees and healthy tree roots in preventing climate change. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

Knoch Knolls in Naperville is already full of thousands of trees, but seven more added to the park's landscape Tuesday are special.

These small trees, representing six species native to Illinois, were carefully lowered into place as part of an artistic planting designed to get people thinking about their environmental splendor and value.

Designed by artist Jenny Kendler of Chicago and created by the Bolingbrook office of Bartlett Tree Experts, the art installation called "See the Forest (For the Trees)" also features an element of trees less seen: their roots.

Painted black and lying perpendicular to the ground at each end of the diagonal row of trees is a root plate -- one from a large blue spruce that fell on private property during a storm in Naperville, and another from a white poplar that toppled naturally at Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

"I painted them black partly just to get people to look at them with fresh eyes," Kendler, 35, said about the snarls of roots incorporated into her living design. "We want to let people understand what's going on underground."

Underground, trees build root systems that vary in their size and structure, but in most cases extend beyond their longest branches, said Scott Stringer, a certified arborist with Bartlett Tree. When roots fail, trees fail, but when they're healthy and strong, trees can withstand droughts, blizzards and thrashing winds.

"They're just this unseen, wonderful thing," said Christine Esposito of Terracom, a communications firm that works with Bartlett Tree.

Showing roots to visitors is only one aspect of Kendler's visual education effort about trees. Another element connects with language.

In research Kendler conducted for the project, she found ancient English and Irish cultures had an alphabet known as Ogham in which each letter stood for a tree. She created her own Ogham to use the trees in her piece to convey a message about the importance of trees in combating climate change.

"There's actually a hidden word that's written with these trees," Kendler said (Hint: The word has one repeat letter, hence six varieties of trees instead of seven). "I'm presenting a puzzle to the public to ask them to come learn a little about tree identification."

A sign to be posted this week near the artistic plantings shows images of 10 tree leaves and the letters they represent. That way visitors can choose which trees they see to decode Kendler's secret word.

Kendler's art installation will be one highlight of Nature Art Week from Aug. 6 to 14 at the Naperville Park District's Knoch Knolls Nature Center, 320 Knoch Knolls Road.

"Art is a great, effective way to engage people in the environment," Esposito said.

During the art-focused week at the 2-year-old educational center, there will be a series of tree identification walks with experts like Stringer from Bartlett Tree and a Q and A with the artist at 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 14.

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