“Canopy Understories” Sculpture Installation Coming to Longenecker Horticultural Gardens

The Madison Public Art Project has commissioned Madison-based artists Laura Richards and William Grant Turnbull to create a new sculpture series, “Canopy Understories,” which will be unveiled at the UW–Madison Arboretum. The public is invited to meet the artists who will give a brief talk at the unveiling ceremony on Earth Day, April 22, 2022, at 1 p.m., in collaboration with the Arboretum. Admission to the grounds is free. All are welcome.

“Canopy Understories” features two site-specific installations. The three Samara Flight sculptures are a linear mobile recreating the winged seed pods (or samaras) of Wisconsin’s state tree, the sugar maple (Acer saccharum). Sculpted in lightweight materials used by the aviation industry, and held aloft by metal cable and hardware developed for rock climbing, this trio of wind-activated kinetic sculptures mimics the natural dispersal mechanism maple trees use. The open lattice of the samara sculptures’ wing veins spin and twirl in the wind, illustrating a natural process in color and motion. The sculptures are filled with wonderful detail and texture showing a high level of artistic skill.

The Mayapple Canopy sculpture, which will be installed later in April, takes a larger-than-life look at the Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), a species native to Wisconsin. Mayapples grow from a creeping root, with one or two umbrella-like leaves per stem. Only stems with two leaves will flower to produce an intensely sour yellow fruit. Unripe fruit, like the rest of the plant, contains podophyllotoxin, a toxic chemical sometimes used in chemotherapy. The fruit is edible once fully ripened. Such poisons evolved in plants to discourage animals from eating them. The sculpture functions during the day as a shade canopy, its shadow tracing a large arc on the ground like a sundial. It also stores energy from the sun, like photosynthesis in living plants. But instead of using that energy for plant growth and reproduction, it powers the LED-illuminated blown-glass fruit after sunset. Aluminum is extremely rare in metal form in nature. It can be melted and re-melted, and, like components of living organisms, is easily recycled.

Laura Richards and William Grant Turnbull artist statement reads: “we forge monuments to the sometimes-overlooked beauty of every site’s local flora and fauna. Researching a venue’s layered historical, cultural, and functional contexts helps us select native species that symbolically articulate our aesthetic sense of that place.”

Biomimetics is a contemporary design movement, focused on applying the lessons of nature to human problems. While human technologies exacerbate many of the environmental challenges we face today, we can also creatively adapt our knowledge to addressing these challenges. The artists of “Canopy Understories” hope this project will spark new ideas and alter the viewers’ perspectives of both nature and technology. The Madison-based artists Richards and Turnbull, both University of Wisconsin graduates, are inspired by nature. They illuminate how the tools and technology of the modern world can be more sustainable. The installation seeks to question how the things people build can be made more efficiently, sustainably, and with more grace and style.

The artistry of these sculptures will dazzle and delight visitors of all ages. “This is such an exciting project, and the work is extraordinary” said Jillian Talarczyk, the president of the Madison Public Art Project. “I hope visiting the “Canopy Understories” sculptures in this setting will inspire people to look up, reflect, and reconnect with nature. I think the artists’ larger than life approach will reveal new possibilities for the viewer and energize the Arboretum we all know and love in exciting new ways.”

“We are thrilled that Arboretum visitors will be able to experience the “Canopy Understories” sculptures in all four seasons, observing the very seasonal phenomena represented throughout an entire year. This exhibit provides a wonderful opportunity to connect with public art in one of Wisconsin’s most loved outdoor public spaces,” notes Arboretum Director Karen Oberhauser.

Garden curator David Stevens adds, “I love the idea of displaying unique artistic interpretations of Wisconsin native flora in the Longenecker collection. Not only will they add year-round interest, but I believe they will also help visitors better appreciate the wonders of the natural world around them.”

The “Canopy Understories” sculptures will be on view through April 2023 and can be enjoyed in all seasons in the natural landscape. Children and adults of all ages are welcome. Visitors can scan QR codes on exhibit signs for educational information or can pick up an activity backpack in the Arboretum Visitor Center.

Contact: Jillian Talarczyk, president and creative director, Madison Public Art Project, 646.245.9769, info@madisonpublicartproject.com.

This Madison Public Art Project installtion is supported by Dane County Arts and Cultural Affairs, with additional funds from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, The Evjue Foundation, Inc., charitable arm of The Capital Times, the W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation, and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. Additional funding made possible by Summit Credit Union, MG&E Foundation, Wisconsin Alpha Delta Kappa, the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, and generous private donors.

Madison Public Art Project would also like to thank the in-kind contributors. Arborist services provided by Tree Health Management. Opening day event photography by SutterChase Studios. Engineering services provided by DC Engineering. Project signage and backpacks by UW–Madison Arboretum.