“I like to think of the sculpture as a sort of skin that’s been shed by the tree, and that it’s thickness is roughly commensurate with how long it would take the tree to grow the same thickness as the sculpture. So in a way, what we’re talking about is something that’s an ode to those two years in the life of the tree.”

– John Grade

John Grade’s large-scale sculpture, Middle Fork, echoes the contours of a 140-year-old western hemlock tree located in the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle. Suspended above the Brotman Forum at our downtown location, this massive commissioned artwork involved the help of many hands. Volunteers, including SAM Staff, contributed time and thought to the placement of each small piece of cedar that was used to create this stunning sculpture. Watch this video for an in-depth look at the process of creating this work: from working with arborists to cast the living tree, to working with art handler to install hanging sections at SAM—Grade’s installation is an impressive reminder of art’s power to bring people together under its many branches.

Art Making Activity

Eventually John Grade’s sculpture will go back to the forest and decompose back into the soil. This makes us think about the circle of life for trees and wonder how humans are connected to nature and how is nature connected to humans? What materials do we use all the time that come from trees?

Create your own sculpture of a tree using a paper bag!

  1. Find a paper bag of any size, open it and place it on a table. If you want, you can put a small square of cardboard inside the bottom of your bag to make it more stable.
  2. Make cuts from the top of your bag down to the middle of your bag. I chose to do eight cuts, but you can do more or less! This will make flaps at the top of your bag.
  3. Squeeze the bottom of your bag together and twist it as tight as you can. This will be the trunk of your tree. Just like you squeezed the trunk, squeeze together two top flaps at a time. These will be your branches.
  4. Move your branches around and look at your tree from every angle. Move your tree to different locations and build more trees to make a forest. Each one will look different.
  5. Think about the life cycle of your tree: it was a living tree, then paper, then a paper bag, and now you turned it into a sculpture of a tree. What will happen to it next? What is it like to have a tree indoors? What does it make you think about or remind you of?

We want to see your artwork! Share a photo of your tree with us via email or on social media using #StayHomewithSAM!

Story Time Suggestions

Because of an Acorn, by Lola M. Schaefer & Adam Schaefer. See the book read out loud here.
This book illustrates the interconnectedness of the natural world, showing how a tiny acorn connects to the plant and animal life of an entire forest.
The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. See the book read out loud here or here.
This controversial yet classic tale can be read as a parable between humanity and nature.
The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. See the book read out loud here.
This classic environmentalist tale reminds readers, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

If you value the ways SAM connects art to your life, consider making a donation or becoming a member today!

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager

Image: Middle Fork, 2014–2017, John Grade, American, B. 1970, cedar, 105 ft. long x 30 ft. diameter, Seattle Art Museum commission, Photo: Ben Benschneider.
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