PALMER SQUARE — A pair of odd-looking trees in Palmer Square Park — one carved into a geometric design and the other adorned with a giant hand and bug sculptures — are doing just what they were designed to do: Delight and intrigue passersby.
“I love it. It’s very thought-provoking,” local preschool teacher Katie Berrios said Tuesday afternoon of the giant hand sculpture gripping a tree at the northwest corner of the park.
Berrios said she took her students on a field trip to the park to see the public art for a lesson in scientific observation. She asked her students to observe the art and then draw their own interpretations of it.
The teacher is just one of many locals who have stopped to check out the strange trees, both of which were transformed into public art through the Chicago Tree Project.
“Bringing public art to a space like this is just the coolest thing ever,” said Steve Hier, member of the Palmer Square Park advisory council and president of the Palmer Square homeowners association.
“They could’ve chopped these [trees] down altogether, but somebody’s repurposing them. Anytime we can repurpose stuff, we’re slowing down the wasting of resources in this country,” he added.
Founded in 2014, the Chicago Tree Project allows artists to turn dead or dying trees into works of three-dimensional art. It’s a collaboration between the Chicago Park District and Chicago Sculpture International. The latter is a cooperative of sculptors in Chicago who push to get more public art by local artists installed throughout the city.
The more recent of the two art installations — the tree adorned with giant bug and hand sculptures — went up over the weekend.
Artist Carrie Fischer is responsible for the art, which she designed to illustrate the impact of the deadly Emerald Ash Boer beetle. The pest has claimed thousands of Chicago’s ash trees and threatens to wipe out the ash tree population in the U.S.
“The whole environmental statement drove me to say, ‘What is something that can be represented in the park that will bring a lot more awareness to those dead trees?” Fischer said.
The artist went with a giant concrete hand next to an Ash Boer beetle — also made of concrete. The piece is called “Helping Hand.”
“I wanted to challenge myself with something pretty big and bold,” Fischer said.
The carved tree at the southeast corner of the park debuted sometime last summer or early fall, according to Hier. Called “A ‘maze’ ing Larvae of the Emerald Ash Boer,” the art has a similar message.
“The dying ash tree in Palmer Square Park is embellished with a maze carved into the trunk,” artist Janet Austin wrote in a statement.
“The maze is solved by starting at the bottom of the tree and winding up toward the branches. By following the tracks, one encounters several bronze larvae meandering up the tree. At the end of the tracks it becomes apparent that many bronze larvae are creating the maze and moving up into the bark.”
Soon there will be a total of three pieces of tree art in Palmer Square Park.
Hier said a third artist is currently crafting a totem pole out of another dying tree through the program.