Cahoon Museum celebrates trees in new art installation
A Giant oak falls in Cotuit. This is a 75-foot mural that spans three walls at the Cahoon Museum of American Art, and is part of the museum’s new exhibit, “The Greenhouse”.
The huge multi-wall design was created by internationally renowned artist Ethan Murrow and his team of three artist assistants over a one-week period at the museum, forming the main exhibit in the Cahoon’s central gallery, visible up to ‘to October 3. The show also includes two additional smaller works by the artist.
Murrow is a professor of painting and drawing practice at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, Boston, and is widely known for his panoramic, often multi-story, drawings that can descend stairs and fill entire walls.
The physical creation of the mural began, he explains, with a digital image, projected onto the wall as “an original map” to present the design. Then Murrow and his artistic assistants Nick Papa, Karli Janell Tucker and Shailinn Messer, begin to create the design, using several refillable pens containing low impact acrylic paint. The artists use the model image as the basis for creating the parameters of the drawing, but each paints in their own particular style, and the results, surprisingly, blend into a cohesive whole. Sarah Johnson, executive director of Cahoon, described the process as “structured and disciplined work, coupled with imaginative vision”.
Cahoon’s mural design, says Murrow, does not represent an actual tree, but “comes from 15 or 20 images of trees tinkered together” and digitally combined to look both “organic and man-made.”
The design appeals to the viewer’s imagination: an eccentric and whimsical treehouse is seen drifting off the end of one end of the mural, possibly representing what the artist calls “a sort of human occupation.” “, While the drawing ends on the third wall” with the explosion of the tree which collapses and crashes.
A window in the floating cabin, he says, was inspired by the windows in Cahoon’s gallery, while the moss appearing on one edge of the trunk offers a suggestion of “what the tree helps to grow back.” Under its massive trunk, totterry objects and “man-made” tools seem to attempt to consolidate the fallen tree.
Looking at the mural, Johnson calls Murrow “a storyteller” and the story suggested in the mural “might have different results … We don’t know what the final story might be here.
Murrow adds, “What is the future of this item? (Viewers can) have a conversation with this room.
The other two works exhibited by the artist reflect his unconventional sense of humor and his attitude of questioning human efforts, asking the viewer questions about their substance and possible meaning. They represent a mysterious figure who appears in the air in a forest, precariously balanced between several glass terrariums as he travels through the trees. The images leave it to the viewer to decide whether the character can be a “thief, a protector, an irresponsible gardener or a thoughtful propagator”.
Some of our (human) attempts to fix things “are flawed,” says Murrow, adding that “humans are good at inventing, terrible at maintaining.”
Johnson explains that she contacted Murrow because “he seemed perfectly suited to a project at Cahoon (a museum that)” seeks to bridge contemporary and traditional art and present them in conversation.
When Murrow first visited the Cahoon to meet her, Johnson said, “He really fell in love with Martha Cahoon’s floral paintings and the stories of her gardens. It helped him orient himself towards something related to plants.
Murrow was interested in the history of Cape Town and wanted to ‘build pictures’ around the theme of trees as well as ‘honor the natural history of the region’. According to the museum, the huge fallen tree may refer to “forests that once existed on Cape Cod before colonization and deforestation” and is “a testament to the resilience and regeneration of nature.”
“As a child, I grew up on a farm… I learned that nature always wins,” says Murrow. He allocated part of his museum allocation to the Barnstable Land Trust, towards a program of planting saplings.
Art, he says, has always been at the center of the “stories we tell” about ourselves and our history, often modified and embellished. Using the example of the romantic paintings of the American landscape depicted at the Hudson River School in the 19th century, he says that the art provides a historical record of how humans viewed the country’s landscape and its possibilities, and to this epoch was important in leading popular opinion towards western expansion.
Another fascinating aspect of wall drawing, which reflects the changing faces of our natural world, is that wall painting is not permanent. This fall, when the exhibition closes, the mural will be repainted, so there is an ephemeral and impermanent aspect that can reflect our own changing environment. However, Murrow jokes: “It will (always) be there, in the ‘permanent under-wall collection’.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
“The Greenhouse” runs from June 16 to October 3 at the Cahoon Museum of American Art, 4676 Falmouth Road (Route 28), Cotuit. The museum’s opening hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. $ 10, $ 8 students and seniors, free for children under 12. More information at 508 428-7581; www.cahoonmuseum.org
A variety of lectures and related programs, both virtual and in-person, will take place throughout the exhibition, including two open house events with free admission to the museum on June 27 and July 10. For details on all upcoming events, visit the Cahoon website.