Simpson Street Free Press always has its eyes open for interesting museum exhibitions, and now the Overture Center is about to open a showcase, “Phoenix from the Ashes,” in the Playhouse Gallery running from September sixth through October 27th. According to a story by Samara Kalk Derby at Madison.com, the collection consists of artwork from 14 artists in the Madison area, all dedicating their pieces to the ash trees that were removed around the city due to the invasion of the emerald ash borer beetle.
The emerald ash borer first came to the States during 2002. As an invasive species, the beetle targets ash trees. The beetle eats “across the grain of the nutrient-transporting system of the tree” says Jacquelyn Whisenant, an entomologist and science illustrator. According to Whisenant, the tree is effectively cut off from vital nutrients, which leads to a rapid death. Their presence has resulted in great reductions in the number of ash trees, a fact which can be noticed in our own city of Madison.
Ash trees in Asia have evolved chemical immunity to the parasitic species. But local trees do not have the same protection, and despite efforts from city officials, still suffer from the effects of the invasive beetles. A report from the Madison Urban Forestry Task Force calls the emerald ash borer “the single most influential force on the current composition of our urban forest.”
During the past six years, ash trees have fallen from 22 percent of all trees in the city, to only 10 percent. To prevent further infestation, the city has cleared over 8,600 afflicted trees.
In response to the loss of ash trees in Madison, artists banded together to create “Phoenix from the Ashes,” a new art exhibition. The removal of the ash trees created an emotional response from the people of Madison and the exhibition is an effort to reintroduce the trees in a different form. As Karin Wolf, administrator for the city’s arts program, described the collection of art, it “was a way to positively transform the mass exodus of our tree friends.”
“It’s a major impact on our community when you lose this many trees in such a short period of time,” said Paul Morrison, the owner of The Wood Cycle of Wisconsin. Morrison, equipped the artists with most of the ash wood used in the artwork. He said “it’s a feel-good moment from the standpoint of, we don’t have to entirely say goodbye to these trees.”
Walking into the exhibit, the first piece displayed is a watercolor showing the emerald ash borer, setting the scene for visitors. Along with paying their respects to the fallen ash trees, the featured artists decided to widen the focus of the exhibit to environmental issues in general. Aaron Laux, a woodworker of 25 years, and Katherine Steichen Rosing both contributed to “Phoenix from the Ashes” along with “Swept Away,” another showcase at the Overture, which centers around climate change and possible solutions.
Laux created a wooden collage that shows hands being washed over by a wave of water. He explained that the wave is a visual metaphor for Mother Earth, enveloping the hands, or all beings on Earth. “We’re all swept together in one great organism in some sense. So it’s about relationships and about how we all connect together in this giant, great living mass that we are,” said Laux. The piece was sold to UW Hospital and Clinics for $9,000.
Another artist, Sylvie Rosenthal, also followed suit and included zebra mussels and batteries, alongside the ash wood, in her art to depict other environmental issues. Her piece, called “Ions Stowaways Stardust,” shows the skull of a bird with a broken beak nestled on plastic palm leaves. “The date palm is where the Phoenix rises from,” said Rosenthal. “The bird rises from the ashes.”
The “Phoenix from the Ashes” exhibit was sponsored by Madison Community Foundation and the City of Madison Arts Commission.
“Helping reclaim the many downed ash trees allowed us to work with the Madison Arts Commission and turn a devastating environmental story into one of renewal, repurpose and creativity,” said Linfield, vice president of community impact at Madison Community Foundation.
The exhibit aims to raise awareness of the problems we face in our local environment. While all the trees that were removed from the city were replaced with a variety of 25 other species, some people in the city had trouble understanding the need for the removal. Many of the ash trees looked healthy on the exterior.
Through the exhibition, with an opening reception on September sixth from six to eight p.m., members of the community will have the chance to find solace and an explanation for the absence of ash trees in Madison.
[Sources: Wisconsin State Journal; Madison.com; Overture Center]