The University Record, May 21, 2001

Sculpture venerates tree in Arboretum

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Gerry Moll works on part of the ceramic cast for his ‘Tree Veneration Project.’ Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services
An Eastern cottonwood in Nichols Arboretum caught the attention and artistry of Gerry Moll, a master of fine arts degree candidate in ceramic sculpture. Attracted by the deep crevices in its bark and the grand stature of the tree, Moll set out to venerate it through a collaborative site-specific project.

“My work is guided by an exploration into opportunities in connecting as individuals and in community with the natural wild systems where we live,” Moll says. “I seek out place-specific relationships, internal and external, to celebrate our cyclical, rhythmical orientations.”

Moll took 6-by-8-inch slabs of clay to the tree, pressed them against the cottonwood to get several impressions of the bark patterns and made plaster casts of the patterns. He used these casts as “press molds” for texturing slabs of clay, which were assembled to create the finished form for his “Tree Veneration Project.”

The ceramic form was created in pieces from clay specifically mixed for outdoor sculpture. At about 8 feet tall, the piece weighs close to 400 pounds. After painting the form with his formula of glazes, Moll moved the pieces into the kiln, where the temperature was brought to 1,940 degrees. The firing process took about 48 hours.

The sculpture will be installed in the Arboretum in time for Arbfest 2001 and the May 31–June 10 blooming of the nearby peony collection. An opening reception will be held at 7:30 p.m. May 31 at the Arboretum’s Washington Heights entrance. Moll will present a lecture followed by a walk to the sculpture and the venerated Eastern cottonwood. The reception and lecture are free and open to the public.

The “Tree Veneration Project” is the result of collaboration among the Nichols Arboretum, the University and the artist. It is supported by the Scholarship and Citizenship seminar, an interdisciplinary program offered by the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies.

“It is my belief,” Moll says, “that the creative cooperative process of collaboration brings forth a powerful and abundant harvest on which to feast our hungry bodies, minds and spirits.”