The Chicago Tree Project


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What’s Up With The Funky Trees In Palmer Square Park?

Block Club Chicago by Mina Bloom

Published August 8, 2018

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.


Artists transform 'sick and dying' Chicago trees

ABC 7 By Jesse Kirsch

Published August 3, 2018


Throughout city parks, the Chicago Tree Project commissions transformations of trees that would otherwise be cut down, turning them into public artworks.

"Using art as a vessel for public engagement, sculptors will transform a variety of trees into fun and whimsical experiences for the greater Chicago community," said a release on the project's website about the annual effort.

In Palmer Square Park, artist Carrie Fischer put "The Helping Hand" into place Friday. This massive concrete hand is wrapped around a tree trunk and will have over-sized Emerald Ash Borer Beetles surrounding it. Those beetles are in large part the impetus for this project, having eaten through city trees according to a placard next to Janet Austin's "The A'maze'ing Larvae of the Emerald Ash Borer."
Steve Gaeth, another artist, hammered away at his project across the park's grassy space.
Their creations are among more than two dozen spread throughout the city.


Chicago’s Plan for Sick Trees: Turn Them into Art

Hyperallergic By Claire Voon

Published October 30, 2017

Artists turn trees devastated by a pest into works of public art, calling attention to the problem and creating opportunities for unexpected artistic encounters across the city.

CHICAGO — As its name suggests, the emerald ash borer is a beautiful little green bug, with an armor that shimmers like its namesake precious stone. Its appearance makes it one of the more attractive insects in North America, but it’s also one of the most destructive pests to have invaded the United States (where it arrived from its native Asia). Since 2002, when the metallic beetles were found feeding on ash trees near Detroit, they have spread over many miles and killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in 31 US states as well as in Ontario and Quebec.

Typically, many of these trees are cut down and removed. In Chicago, however, a city-funded model has emerged to transform them into signposts to educate the public on this critical environmental issue. Since 2014, artists have sculpted dead or dying trees, creating large, unexpected works of public art in neighborhoods around the city.

Known as the Chicago Tree Project, the program is run by Chicago Sculpture International, which partners with the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District to select about 10 artists every summer from a pool of applicants. Anyone around the country can apply, and artists receive a modest stipend for their work. By transforming trees in residents’ everyday settings, organizers hope to spur curiosity about the project and create dialogue around both a local problem and the broader issue of climate change.

“Because of global warming, this pest has found a more favorable environment than it has had in the past,” Christine Perri, Outdoor Exhibitions Chair of Chicago Sculpture International, told Hyperallergic. “We see this project as extending the life of these trees that normally would have been removed when they were determined to be no longer viable.”

By now, with the temperature dropping, most of this year’s artists have already finished their trees or will soon complete them. On a recent Thursday, I watched artist Janet Austin and her assistant work on a tall ash tree on the edge of Palmer Square Park. They had debarked the tree in September and were carving a maze that wraps around its naked truck — a design that nods to the winding tracks, known as galleries, that emerald ash borer larvae make when they feed beneath bark. Austin also created about a dozen bronze sculptures of the larvae that she was going to embed into the tracks, so the final piece literally depicts the tree under attack.

“Artists are addressing it in all different ways, but I like this topic because it happens to relate to my work,” she told Hyperallergic. “I often make art about pests or unwanted things that we’re trying to fight.” She pointed out another dying ash tree across the street, its tall branches nearly all naked. “One problem is that a lot of ash trees were planted many years ago, along all these boulevards and in all of the parks,” she said. “If the lesson is anything, it’s that we’ll be more careful with biodiversity so [the beetles] just can’t hop from one to the next and kill so rampantly.”

Ash trees make up about 17% of Chicago’s street tree population, and city crews are working to slow the infestation while treating affected trees. In the meantime, the Chicago Tree Project will continue searching for artists to assign trees that are structurally stable. Artists who are interested should look out for Chicago Sculpture International’s national call for proposals in February. Submissions are then sent to the Chicago Park District, whose team makes the final selections.

The program essentially presents the city with a growing outdoor exhibition, as each finished tree remains in place for as long as it is secure. In Lincoln Park, five trees depicting peaceful figures with clasped hands still stand tall, carved by local artist Kara James in 2014; in Nichols Park, a tall heron by artist Jim Long has gazed upon its surroundings for two years. The Chicago Tree Project gives artists an opportunity to work on a large scale, and for some, a chance to experiment in a new medium. At the same time, it introduces whimsical encounters into public spaces — and creates a citywide treasure hunt of sorts.

What's Up With That Blue And White Tree On Lake Shore Drive?

DNAinfo By Isra Rahman

Published June 15, 2017



Belmont Harbor tree art

LAKEVIEW — If you've driven, biked or run by Belmont Harbor recently, you might wonder what's going on with that odd-looking tree near Lake Shore Drive.

First it was skinned. Then carved. Now it's white and blue, with an artist up in its limbs.

It's the latest effort by the Chicago Tree Project, which revives dead or dying trees by turning them into works of art.

Artist Samantha Rausch is busy on the latest project, working on a ladder as drivers whiz by on Lake Shore Drive.

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The tree can be seen right off of Lake Shore Drive. Rausch works on it three days a week. [DNAinfo/Isra Rahman]

This isn’t the first tree to be revived. The Chicago Park District teamed up with Chicago Sculpture International in 2014 to start the Chicago Tree Project. Chicago Sculpture International is a cooperative of sculptors in Chicago who work on adding more public art from local artists to the city.

The Chicago Tree Project began in the summer of 2014 and allows sculptors to transform dying trees into public art. In the past, artists have carved trees or attached flowers. Rausch's painting, however, makes it a unique piece among the others.

Rausch, a Pilsen resident, heard about the project earlier this year and submitted a proposal for her design. Once it was approved, she began sanding down the tree and preparing it for painting, which she started this month.

The art piece is titled "Endless." According to Rausch, it's meant to blend different concepts of time and life with the image of a dead tree.

The tree is adorned with navy blue and white designs around the trunk and up the branches of the tree. The colors are meant to bring peace and hope and are derived from Rausch’s memories of scuba diving and star-gazing.

“I plan on incorporating a worm-type creature through holes and indents that I have created to show fluidity and play with the concept of time and wormholes,” Rausch said.


Samantha Rausch plans to incorporate a wormlike creature through the holes in her tree. [DNAinfo/Isra Rahman]

She explained how the project is meant to bring in concepts of time from different cultures through certain symbols such as the Celtic knot and her sketches from the past.

“The worm will be sort of snakelike, but I’m avoiding the term 'snake' because of the traditional religious connotation of snakes. It is meant to be more of an otherworldly fluid creature that flows through time and space,” Rausch said.

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The tree can be seen right off of Lake Shore Drive. Rausch works on it three days a week. [DNAinfo/Isra Rahman]

Working on her tree on the east side of North Lake Shore Drive, Rausch said she has gotten quite a positive response from drivers and residents.

“I have people honking at me as they drive by, yelling once traffic picks up. Residents walk by and say they have been watching me from their window,” Rausch said.

Rausch said she has always been interested in large-scale pieces of public art. Her work has snowballed into bigger pieces and led her to working for the theater departments at North Park and the University of Chicago.

“I’m fascinated by grand art, all-encompassing environments, such as in theater where they incorporate sounds,” Rausch said.

If all goes well, Rausch hopes to have a soft opening for the piece by the end of summer and use it to pivot to bigger projects in Chicago.



"Taxing online video games, Chicago Tree Project, The Secret History of Bonemen of Barumba"

WGN Radio

Posted on June 25, 2017

Mike Stephen talks with Entertainment Software Association senior vice president Rich Taylor about how Chicago taxes our online video gaming experience, checks in with Chicago Sculpture International board president Emily Moorhead about turning dying trees into sculptures via The Chicago Tree Project, and chats with Plastic Crimewave (aka Steve Krakow) about tribal postpunk oddballs the Bonemen of Barumba for this week’s edition of The Secret History of Chicago Music. Meanwhile, we tell the tale of Mike raiding Andy’s garage for supplies for his new house! This week’s local music is provided by The Addisons.

"The Chicago Tree Project: Transforming Trees in Chicago’s Parks" 

Chicago Parks Foundation Seeing Green Blog

Written on February 22, 2017

Artist Anthony Heinz May is covered in sawdust in the basement wood shop at the Lincoln Park Cultural Center. He’s spent the last several days methodically cutting branches from a Jackson Park tree into disks that are then further separated into hundreds of small cubes. After drilling holes into each of these cubes, May will take them back to Jackson Park where the tree will be
reassembled piece by piece into a pixelated, exploding version of its former self.The arms of the tree twist and wrap around the trunk and then shoot out, dancing and dissolving against the blue sky. This is the Chicago Tree Project. Each year, the Chicago Park District in partnership with Chicago Sculpture International, puts out a call to artists from Chicago and beyond to transform sick and dying Park District trees into vibrant public art.Using art as a vessel for public engagement, sculptors make over a variety of trees into fun and whimsical experiences for communities throughout the city. Since the project began in 2014, artists have carved, painted, sculpted, and adorned dozens of trees that would have otherwise been cut down.

The Chicago Tree Project was featured during "Tree Show" at Megan Williamson's exhibition space, The Annex

November 2016



"Oak Park artist turns litter into object lesson"

Written by Michael Romain on August 27, 2015

According to the International Bottled Water Association, sales of bottled water in the U.S. totaled more than $13 billion last year — an increase of more than 6 percent from 2013. Those billions of dollars in revenue translate into billions of pounds of plastic, which in turn translate into billions of barrels of petroleum, which is what plastic bottles are made from.

The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that 18 million gallons of bottled water were shipped to California from Fiji in 2006, producing roughly 2,500 tons of greenhouse gases — and lots of plastic litter.

"I don't think people think about that when they use plastic bottles," said Oak Park sculptor Bryan Northup. "They just throw them on the ground."

The California native, who moved here in 2008, said he was prompted to start salvaging the plastic litter, in part, by the documentary Tapped, a film that's highly critical of the bottled water industry.

"The toxic pollution pumped into the atmosphere as a by-product of making millions of polyethylene water bottles has contributed to the shift in global climate that likely helped to kill so many trees in the Chicago area," he said.

Northup, who divides his working time between the basement studio of his home and the Oak Park Art League, where he's assistant director, said he wants to use his art to raise awareness about the connection between plastic-related pollution and climate change.

One of his latest works is called "Message in a Bottle," a sculpture that will be installed in mid-September in Hiawatha Park in Chicago's Dunning community. Northup will cover the dead tree with discarded plastic beverage bottles that will form limbs of sorts, with the bottles containing written messages created by the general public.

Those messages will also be compiled on a website that observers of the sculpture can access by scanning with their mobile devices a QR code on the trunk of the tree. The deadline to submit the messages is Sept. 15.

The installation is part of the Chicago Tree Project, a program sponsored by Chicago Sculpture International and the Chicago Park District, designed "to transform sick and dying trees into vibrant public art," according to a statement released by Northup, who said he's still reeling from culture shock.

"I hate to say this about Chicago, but there's a lot of litter here and people don't seem to care. I'd like to see something done, like a redemption value placed on plastic bottles, because the pollution is so common," he said, while tending to the infant son he's raising with his husband.

The sleeping baby seemed to reinforce the urgency of his environmental message. He wasn't talking in abstractions. Northup said he's soliciting messages from anyone, but recommended they incorporate advice for future generations ("your grandchildren"), warnings about the effects of individual actions and "some hope for the future."

He said that in the years since he and his husband moved from California, he's noticed viscerally the change in the weather — a reality that only heightens his sense of urgency about raising climate change awareness.

"When we moved from California it didn't seem like there was such extreme weather and all these strange drought problems that the state has now had, so just within that span of time it's gotten worse. That's seven or eight years? It seems pretty rapid to me," he said.

Asked if climate change would force him into activism, Northup chuckled and talked wistfully of "jumping on a ship somewhere" as an activist for Greenpeace, before noting his responsibilities — his marriage, his foster children, his home in Oak Park. He said the Chicago Tree Project is his way of using art to inspire action.

"It's important to raise awareness and Chicago is really open to that. I love that the city is supporting this program and I hope that it continues for many years. Sadly, there are a lot of dead trees to choose from."

To add a message of your own that will hang from the tree in Hiawatha Park, click here.

This article has been corrected to include the proper spelling of Bryan Northup's last name. Wednesday Journal regrets this error.


"Your Chicago: Chicago Tree Project"

CBS Chicago 

Written by Rob Johnson on July 10, 2015

The Emerald Ash Borer has destroyed tens of millions of ash trees all over North America.

Nearly all of them have had to be cut down, but the city of Chicago has come up with a novel way to preserve a few of them along with some elms and locust trees.

It’s called the Chicago Tree Project, CBS 2’s Rob Johnson reports.

They are trees with unusual names like “Dying to Survive,” “Lead with the Heart,” “Fishing Eagle,” “Checkmate,” and “Flock.”

Margot McMahon is responsible for turning “Checkmate” and “Flock” into works of art.

“The people in the neighborhood miss the trees when they go down, and by carving them, we bring art to sometimes an ‘art desert,’” she says.

Tired of seeing the trees being decimated, the Chicago Park District began the Chicago Tree Project, calling on artists from Chicago Sculpture International to begin turning the trees from eyesores to neighborhood gems. Eleven have been completed; five more are in the works.

“The sculptural community in Chicago loves Chicago. They love getting out in the neighborhoods,” the park district’s Mike Dimitroff says.

Since they are dead trees, they are regularly inspected by the city for safety issues and it is expected they will survive three to five years in their newly artistic state.

For more information and a map of the carved tree locations, click here.



"Dead trees turned into art in parks, along Chicago's lakefront"

Chicago Tribune

Written by Rachel Cromidas on November 17, 2014

Two trees once slated for the ax are being transformed into works of art—oversized chess pieces—just off Lake Shore Drive, near the Belmont exit.

The two trees will become a single art piece created by the local artist Margot McMahon as part of an ongoing public art series known as the Chicago Tree Project. Up and down the lakefront and in several parks around the city,  trees are being transformed into works.

The two chess pieces—a knight and a queen—will be carved out of the wood as though they were on a chessboard, said McMahon, 57, of Oak Park. She said the chess motif was inspired by the shapes of the tree shafts, one of which curved to resemble a horse's neck.

"It's called 'Checkmate,' and it's capturing the moment where the knight is in position to take down the king or the queen," she said. "It's this very tense moment in the chess game."

 So far the knight is finished, and McMahon said she will begin working on the second chess piece in the spring. Both sit on the west side of Lake Shore Drive.The knight took just more than a month of work for McMahon, who completed it on Nov. 10. McMahon said a typical carving piece of that size costs her several thousands of dollars to produce, with the labor and materials expenses. She said the Park District offered her a stipend to cover some of the expenses, including temporary scaffolding, which cost about $250.

The Park District has allocated $250,000 from its operating budget for art projects, according to Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, a spokeswoman. The artists receive stipends from the Park District to cover some of the costs of materials and labor, according to Maxey-Faulkner. McMahon's stipend was $1,000.

The Tree Project gives sculpture artists free reign to transform sick or dead trees that would otherwise be chopped down into living sculptures, according to Michael Dimitroff, the manager of art initiatives for the Park District.

That will last until the tree collapses, Dimitroff said. Many of the trees, including the ones McMahon is working on, are white ash trees that were attacked by the emerald ash borer, a beetle that has been knocking out the ash tree population in Illinois since the mid-2000s.

Other Tree Project sculptures in the works this fall include a piece in Harold Washington Park, 5200 S. Hyde Park Blvd., by Karen Gubitz and a piece in Jackson Park, 6401 S. Stony Island Ave., by Jim Long. Long is using chainsaws to carve the wood, according to Dimitroff.

Existing Tree Project sculptures include McMahon's first piece for the project, "Flock of Birds," in Jackson Park. That piece features a series of toy birds hanging from a tree's branches.

"This is a small way of re-purposing the trees and turning them into art, instead of taking a tree down and turning it into mulch, you have a living sculpture that will last until the tree's integrity doesn't," Dimitroff said. "It's a nice gesture of turning something that's unfortunately being decimated by nature."


"Turning Trees into Art"

Chicago Tonight 

July 23, 2014

If you've spent time in city parks this summer you may have noticed trees being transformed. The Chicago Park District has teamed with a local sculptor's group to turn trees that were condemned into public art. The stay of execution for the mighty elms, ash and locust trees is also an opportunity for artists to make a very public impression. Jay Shefsky is on the Artbeat.


“Dead Trees Being Turned into Art Through City Program”

DNA Info

Written by Ted Cox on May 19, 2014

CITY HALL — Dead and dying trees will get a chance to live again through art, thanks to a new city program. Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the Chicago Tree Project Friday. It assigns selected artists to work on dead or dying trees and convert them into works of art. Margot McMahon's "Flock," in a 125-year-old elm tree in Jackson Park, hangs a sculpted owl from the cut-off tree branches along with figures of songbirds in flight. According to the city, J. Taylor Wallace is carving the entire trunk of a honey locust in a spiral pattern in McGuane Park. The project began Thursday and is expected to take a few weeks to complete. The overall project, conducted through the Chicago Park District and Chicago Sculpture International, has already selected 10 artist proposals for areas across the city. Other parks targeted include Washington, Marquette, Armour Square, Humboldt, Olympia and Riis. "Chicago is one of the world’s greatest arts and culture capitals, and every Chicagoan should have the opportunity to experience art and culture, no matter their ZIP code," Emanuel said. The city previously has launched programs to save trees from the emerald ash borer, and elms have fallen victim to Dutch elm disease. Last month, Emanuel also announced plans to plant 5,400 trees across across the city this year.


“Artists Transforming Dead, Dying Trees in Chicago; Ten local artists are being commissioned”

NBC Chicago

Published on May 17, 2014

Artists in Chicago are turning dead or dying trees into public works of art at parks throughout the city.

The Chicago Tree Project is transforming trees afflicted with emerald ash borer beetles and other insects and diseases. Some of the work is already underway. Artist J. Taylor Wallace is carving a Honey Locust in McGuane Park in the Bridgeport neighborhood. An announcement from the mayor's office describes it as a "whimsical, ascending spiral concept" that complements the tree's natural form. Artist Margot McMahon has hung sculptures and casts of an owl and song birds from the limbs of a 125-year-old elm tree in Jackson Park on the South Side. Ten local artists are being commissioned. The city-sponsored program is part of an effort to bring more public art to Chicago.


“Emanuel wants to turn dying trees into public art”

Chicago Sun Times

Written by Fran Spielman on 05/16/2014

Dead or dying trees infested with the emerald ash borer could be brought back to life—as public art.

City Hall, the Chicago Park District and Chicago Sculpture International have forged a partnership to commission 10 local artists to turn “dying tree shafts” into whimsical pieces of public art.

The designated artists were culled from a request issued last fall that triggered concepts ranging from “carved tree shafts to additive concepts that will use a variety of materials,” officials said. Thanks to the so-called “Chicago Tree Project,” patrons of seven Chicago parks—Washington, Marquette McGuane, Armour Square, Humboldt, Olympia and Riis—will start seeing “carved or artistically modified trees” over the next several months.

Some of the work is already completed or underway.

In Jackson Park, artist Margot McMahon has hung a cast/sculpted owl and other song birds from the limbs of a 125-year-old elm tree.

In McGuane Park, artist J. Taylor Wallace embarked this week on a weekslong carving project using a Honey Locust tree that the mayor’s office described as an “ascending spiral concept to complement the tree’s natural form and growth pattern.”

Eric Stephenson, president of Chicago Sculpture International, likened the tree project to, “Cows on Parade,” the wildly popular public art program during the Daley years.

“Public art is a fun way to engage the public. First, was was the cows. Now it’s the trees. Our goal is to activate these trees that are slowly being condemned around the city due to the Emerald Ash Borer and other bug diseases,” he said.

“We’re told there are close to 100,0000 trees that are gonna die over the next five to ten years. We’re  trying to honor the life of the tree since green spaces are so important and draw attention to those spaces. Some of the trees will be physically carved. Some will have sculptures added to it. Some will be adorned with objects or coverings.”

Stephenson noted that the trees will remain under Park District control, even after they’re converted into public art.

“It’s under their discretion. When trees are eventually comproimsed. They’ll be torn down Whether that’s two months or two years, we don’t know,” he said.

Emanuel’s Cultural Plan for Chicago set a goal of bringing public art to Chicago neighborhoods, instead of just concentrating it downtown.

The Chicago Tree Project will do just that. It will use “art as a vehicle for community engagement” in the parks to create “unique opportunities” for Chicagoans to “celebrate the beauty of nature,” the press release states.

“Chicago is one of the world’s greatest arts and culture capitals, and every Chicagoan should have the opportunity to experience art and culture, no matter their zip code,” Emanuel was quoted as saying.

“The Chicago Tree Project joins programs like Sculpture on the Boulevards, Night Out in the Parks and installations of public art along the lakefront to bring art directly to Chicago residents.”

Chemical company experts have warned that Chicago risks losing all 91,000 of its parkway trees— triggering removal and replacement costs as high as $100 million by 2020 — unless the city  steps up treatment for the tree-killing emerald ash borer.

The city is in no position to make that investment, nor does Emanuel believe it’s necessary. But he has acknowledged the need to start down that long road—and did by devoting $1 million to the problem in his 2013 budget and $1.6 million more this year.

“You can’t deal with it in one year. You’ve got to deal with the disease. Some of ‘em, you’ve got to remove. Some of ‘em, you’ve got to treat, then re-planting,” the mayor told the Chicago Sun-Times two years ago.

“When it comes to forestry — both planting of trees, which helps on the value of a home, as well as the quick response for a 311 call — we will have more crews at a price we can afford. And they’ll be on an efficient system to respond to our residents [so] 20,000 more trees will be trimmed than we could have done before.”

The Emanuel administration claims it can save the vast majority of the 85,000 ash trees on public property. By injecting ash trees every three years with the pesticide called Tree-age, city officials hope they can avoid a massive cut.

“As long as we are treating trees, we will have a solid ash population in the city,” said John Lough, a senior forester for the city. “We’ve had very good results with it.”

But given the cost, others question whether the long-term will to treat trees actually exists.

Since last fall, city workers have cut down roughly 145 ash trees in one Northwest Side ward alone, officials said.

It was not the first time beetle-infested ash trees have had to come down in Chicago, according to city officials. Citywide, an estimated 10,000 ash trees on public property will eventually meet the business end of a chain saw, according to city statistics.



“Mayor Emanuel, Park District and Chicago Sculpture International Announce Chicago Tree Project to Turn Dead Trees into Public Art”

The City of Chicago

Published on May 16, 2014

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Park District and Chicago Sculpture International today announce the Chicago Tree Project, which will commission local artists to turn dead or dying trees that are infested with Emerald Ash Borer or other bugs and diseases into living public art.

“Chicago is one of the world’s greatest arts and culture capitals, and every Chicagoan should have the opportunity to experience art and culture, no matter their zip code,” said Mayor Emanuel. “The Chicago Tree Project joins programs like Sculpture on the Boulevards, Night Out in the Parks and installations of public art along the lakefront to bring art directly to Chicago residents.”

The Chicago Tree Project uses art as vehicle for community engagement throughout Chicago parks and creates unique opportunities for citizens to celebrate the beauty of nature. Each Chicago Tree Project artist aims to create an impact on the neighborhood and park visitors.

The project is part of Mayor Emanuel’s efforts to bring public art to neighborhoods across Chicago and fits into his citywide vision for art and culture, as outlined under the Chicago Cultural Plan.
Artist J. Taylor Wallace began to carve a Honey Locust tree in McGuane Park on May 15th. His whimsical, ascending spiral concept is intended to compliment the tree’s natural form and growth pattern. The carving-intensive project is expected to take a few weeks to complete.

Currently on display in Jackson Park is “Flock” by Margot McMahon. This elm tree, which is more than 125 years old, consists of hanging a cast/sculpted owl with other song birds from the elm tree limbs.

Last fall, through a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) process, 10 qualified local artists were selected to transform deceased or dying tree shafts throughout Chicago. The concepts proposed by the artists selected to create public art from these trees range from carved tree shafts to additive concepts that will use a variety of materials.

Patrons can expect to see carved or artistically modified trees over the next several months at parks including Washington, Marquette, McGuane, Armour Square, Humboldt, Olympia and Riis.



Libbie Beaudet