Dixie Biggs and Ray Jones, “Arca Botanicum” (2013), box: walnut, cherry, boxwood; seed/pods: boxwood from Bartram’s Garden; 15 x 14 x 7 ¼” (image courtesy Randy Batista)
Long before North Americans could pick up tomatoseedlings at their local hardware store, there was John Bartram. The 18th-century horticulturist supplied seeds to the likes of Thomas Jefferson and established the US’s first botanical garden near the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. But what gardening enthusiasts mostly remember him for are his boxes — 3-x-2-1/2-foot containers that he carefully packed with plant specimens and then shipped off to prospective buyers in Europe.
Bartram’s boxes quite literally gave seed to a new European landscape peppered with American foliage — everything from morning glories to poison ivy. More recently, they have inspired a remarkable series of artworks at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin.
It all began in June 2010, when a violent storm knocked down 13 varieties of trees in the 45-acre park called Bartram’s Garden that now occupies the botanist’s old estate in Philadelphia. The organization partnered with the local Center for Art in Wood and put out a call for artists to create modern remixes of Bartram’s boxes from the fallen timber. The results — 36 projects, first exhibited at the center last year — are incredibly thoughtful and detailed.
Highlights include Nathan Hansen’s “131 Rings” (2013), which features the remains of a 131-year-old tree; its ring-lined trunk has been sliced horizontally into several sections that rotate with the passing of time, so the very top layer makes one new revolution each year. Benn Colker‘s “Museum of the Maker’s Hand” (2013) is a miniature, traveling museum that contains several “gallery” boxes filled with tiny specimens symbolic of the creative act. Bartram, who had a deep appreciation for the little things in life, would no doubt have been impressed.
Nathan Hansen, “131 Rings” (2013), aluminum, bark, motor, 42 x 42 x 42” (image courtesy Nathan Hansen)
Benn Colker, “Museum of the Maker’s Hand” (2013), ash, basswood, steel, dirt, primer, lacquer; two boxes, each 16 x 10 x 16” (open 16 x 16 x 26”) (image courtesy John Carlano)
Michael Brolly, Rob Kingham, Sean Campbell, Kevin O’Dwyer, “Transfer” (2013), ash, walnut, glass, bronze, LEDs, pine excelsior, 29 x 44 x 46” (image courtesy Donna Chiarelli and Tom Wolf)
Fred Rose, “Cucumber Magnolia is not a Tulip Tree but related like a brother. Both are popularly sold as Poplar wood, which is something other” (2013), Magnolia acuminata – Cucumber Magnolia (wood and log from Bartram’s Garden), probably Liriodendron tulipifera – Tulip Tree (“Poplar” bought at Costa Mesa Home center), Populus trichocarpa – Western Balsam Poplar aka Black Cottonwood (from Russian River, CA), glass, illustration by Mary Jo Rado, 45 x 20 x 12” (image courtesy Fred Rose and Mary Jo Rado)
Ally Crow “Vestige 5” (2013), silverbell, walnut, glass bottle, parchment, 13 x 10 x 7” (image courtesy Ally Crow)
Leah Woods, “In and Down and Up and Out” (2013), butternut, cherry, 60 x 72 x 11” (image courtesy Nathan Hansen)
Christopher Weiland, “Seed Collector” (2013), poplar, fountain grass seed, 9 x 4 x 4” (image courtesy Roy Engelbrecht)
Ron Fleming, “Franklin Tree” (2012), tulip wood from Bartram’s Garden, 12 x 9 ½” (image courtesy Ron Fleming)
Donald Fortescue and Matthew Hebert, “Hybrid Artifact #2 (for John Bartram)” (2013), mixed media (various woods, ABS plastic, lighting and sound component), 38 x 41 x 7” (image courtesy Matthew Hebert and Rachel Bliss)
Steve Loar and Christina Cassone, “Chloris and Flora” (2013), poplar (Bartram’s Garden) bleached, walnut, plastic, paint, tissue, reed, 30 x 17 x 17” (image courtesy Heather Tabacchi)
Tom Rauschke, “Bartram’s Monolith” (2013), tulip poplar, holly, mulberry, black walnut, green heart, ebony, osage orange, purple heart, hickory, pine, spruce, 70 x 16 x 27” (image courtesy William Lemke)
Bartram’s Boxes Remixcontinues at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum (700 North 12th Street, Wausau, Wisconsin) through August 30.
Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...
More by Laura C. Mallonee