A Kinetic Sculpture that Highlights the Delicate Relationship Between Trees and Wildfires: John Grade’s Emeritus

March 16, 2023
1 min read

Emeritus, a massive sculpture by John Grade (American, born in 1970 in Minneapolis, MN), is inspired by the form of a missing tree. Emeritus, suspended in the heart of Oregon State University’s Giant Sequoias, lets viewers glance vertically into the hollow, ghostly realm of an imagined fourth trunk, composed of tens of thousands of cast and carved pieces that reference the species’ cones, needles, and branches. 

John collaborates with his studio team to create immersive large-scale, site-specific installations that are inspired by changing geological and biological shapes and processes in the natural world.  Kinetics, impermanence, and chance are frequently emphasized in the art. 

Emeritus, like many of Grade’s works, is intended to live parallel to and be modified by our regional botanical ecology, which is regularly transformed by the action of rain, wind, insects, weather, and other influences. The art is best viewed during the day and at night, when it is softly illuminated. 

The sculpture is suspended from cables that are connected to straps that are cushioned by wood spacers. Six climbers built the sculpture using arborist procedures that included no spurs, fasteners,  or other components that could harm the Sequoias. Climbers included John Grade, Yung- Hsiang (Sky) Lan, College of Agricultural Sciences Research Associate, and Leah Wilson, Artist-in-Residence at OSU’s H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest. 

John has received the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ 2010 Metcalf Award, a Tiffany  Foundation Award, three Andy Warhol Foundation Grant Awards, two Pollock-Krasner Foundation  Grants, the 2011 Arlene Schnitzer Prize from the Portland Art Museum (OR), and the 2013 Arts  Innovator Award from Artist Trust (WA). 

John stated, “The sculpture is inspired by trees. It’s inspired by the interface between science and art but there’s also a really important social component, and I’ve been frankly amazed at the level of engagement in the community here at OSU. It’s something I’ve never experienced to this degree— we’ve had hundreds of people participate in the project.” 

A Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) in California’s Sequoia National Park, estimated to be over 2,200 years old, is the world’s largest known single-stemmed tree. The three Giant Sequoias at  OSU’s Memorial Union quad are substantially younger, at just over 100 years old. Although the species is only found in the Sierra Nevadas today, fossil records show that the subfamily  (Sequoioideae) originally covered a much larger area. Giant Sequoias are fire-resistant due to their  thick, insulating bark and serotinous cones, which open to propagate the species when the resins in  their cones melt. Nonetheless, the species is vulnerable to the contemporary era’s increased  intensity and scale of wildfires, and the Giant Sequoia is listed as a threatened species.

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