Five large-scale sculptures fashioned from reclaimed tree branches and other natural materials by Polish-American artist Olga Ziemska will debut this month in the newest outdoor exhibition at The Morton Arboretum.
Of the Earth, the first major sculpture installation by a woman artist at the Arboretum, is Ziemska’s largest exhibition to date anywhere in the world. The exhibition will be free with advance purchase of daytime admission and will remain through spring 2025.
Preston Bautista, Ph.D., the arboretum’s vice president of learning and engagement, said that the Cleveland-based sculptor’s creations reflect the 1,700-acre site’s natural surroundings and serve as a link between people and place. “Olga drew from an array of inspirations and lived experiences, including her Polish background and as a woman in the art world, as well as the essence of the Arboretum itself,” he said. “Her works also demonstrate her deep interest in examining the intersections of science, art and philosophy.”
All five sculptures — Strata, Oculus, Ona, Hear: With an ear to the ground and Stillness in Motion: The Matka series — pay homage to the Arboretum landscapes while exploring Ziemska’s central and reoccurring theme, “We are nature.”
“I use art as a tool to better understand the things we often overlook,” said Ziemska, whose Polish surname translates to “of the earth” or “earthly.” “Humans have a complex relationship with the natural world, but there is no separation between people and nature,” she said, adding, “Everything on Earth is of the Earth.”
The sculptures are made of both organic and man-made materials, including steel and glass-fiber reinforced concrete necessary to withstand the Midwest’s weather variations, and range in size from 5- to 14-feet tall and 45 feet in length. Arboretum volunteers spent several weeks laying the groundwork for creation of the unique pieces by collecting, pruning and preparing natural materials such as fallen tree branches from sugar maple, hackberry, linden, willow, elm and wild black cherry trees at the Arboretum.
Stillness in Motion: The Matka series is the newest in Ziemska’s Matka (“mother” in Polish) series, following versions in Romania and Poland. Located outside the Arboretum’s Visitor Center, the 6-foot-tall female figure is composed mostly of willow tree branches.
Ona (“she” in Polish) is the sole sculpture situated on the Arboretum’s West Side. The 14-foot-tall piece depicts a woman with wind-swept tree branch hair and mirrored eyes.
Oculus comprises two 10-foot-tall human head profiles fit with hundreds of varying sizes of tree cookies, or the cross-section of a tree, and mirrored eyes that reflect the surrounding Maple Collection.
Inspired by a recurring theme in Ziemska’s work that considers the “body as landscape,” Strata is a 45-foot-long reclining female figure emerging from the ground at the base of a hill in the Crabapple Collection.
Thousands of white river rocks pattern the surface of Hear: With an ear to the ground, a 5-foot-tall horizontal human head that appears to be at rest in its natural surroundings with Meadow Lake as its backdrop.
Ziemska’s work has been exhibited throughout the U.S., as well as in Poland, Taiwan, Italy, South Korea, Mexico, and other international locations.
The exhibition will open to the public at on Friday, May 26 at noon, following a members-only preview event beginning at 7 a.m. Active duty military are free every day by showing current military identification.
Discount tickets are also available through the Museums for All program. Tickets are not available at the gatehouse and must be obtained in advance. For tickets, visit mortonarb.org/visit-the-arboretum.