KATONAH, N.Y. — Local patrons of the arts who have not yet gotten a chance to check out sculptor Joseph Wheelwright's "Tree Figures” still have time to do so; more time, in fact, than the exhibit’s curators at the Katonah Museum of Art had expected.
Installed on June 5, 2011, and originally scheduled to run until spring 2012, the outdoor sculpture exhibit of 17- to 27-foot-tall trees carved and positioned to look like people has been signed on to remain at the museum until April 2013.
“Tree Figures” has drawn significant attention from the art world, as in this September article in The New York Times, since its installation in the museum’s Sculpture Garden. There, the tree people accompany 100-year-old spruce trees while they stand watch over patrons enjoying their picnic lunches and taking time to relax outside.
Nancy Wallach, director of curatorial affairs, said the museum had been working to procure another artist’s piece for that spot, but it fell through, so the museum decided to try to extend the current exhibit’s tenure.
“Rather than scrounge around for another exhibit, this one has been so popular with our audiences we just decided to see if we could keep it for another year, and the artist agreed,” she said.
Wheelwright created the five sculptures between 2006 and 2008 as part of a 10-piece series, using yellow birch, cherry and pine woods that he found on the land surrounding his home in Vermont.
When he spots a tree that has potential, he uproots it and turns it upside down so that the roots act as arms and the bifurcated trunks as legs.
The tree is then remodeled and reassembled, work that requires the use of cranes, forklifts, cherry pickers, ramps and woodworking tools.
Wallach said that Wheelwright trained one of the museum’s installation workers to do any necessary maintenance and repairs; luckily, she said, the mild winter last year did not bring about any weather-related mishaps.
“We have to do maintenance, as small repairs are needed all during the exhibition,” she said. This winter, “hopefully nothing major will happen. If it does, [Wheelwright] will have to come down here, but small repairs we can handle.”
The Sculpture Garden is open during regular museum hours, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m to 5 p.m, and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. The Katonah Museum of Art is at 134 Jay St. in Katonah.