Tree Houses at the Arboretum

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is hosting an outdoor art exhibit, “Amazing Spaces Places and Escapes: Re-Imagining Tree Houses” until October 1, 2017. With 12 pieces spread throughout the grounds, it’s a great way to get out and see some interesting takes on space, trees, and nature.

The Arboretum describes the exhibit on their site:

The “Amazing Spaces, Places and Escapes: Re-imagining Treehouses” summer exhibit captures the whimsy, artistic fancy, interpretation and “wild” points of view in 12 outdoor structures or sculptures. Expect multi-dimensional, sometimes upside down or underground, but this is not your childhood treehouse memory. The re-imaginings of local artists, architects, builders and hobbyists present a tree experience and dimensions in places and spaces at the Arboretum.

I love outdoor art that works with the environment to create something special. Each of the pieces got me to address some aspect of the interaction between man and nature in a different way.

Most of the works can be seen from the 3-mile drive but all are worth parking and walking to see up close and interact with them.

One of my favorites was perhaps the most whimsical. “The Birdhouse of Arthur J.E. Wren,” by Simon J.D. Sutherland.  A human-size take on a bird house outfitted with décor a hobbit would appreciate. No bedroom for this resident. The house is a refuge from nature filled with books, framed butterflies, an iron stove and other bric-a-brac. Like nature, the house has an untidy aspect to it. Even though houses are often meant to remove us from nature, to shut it out, this house maintains that tenuous connection by being untidy. The door is open here, though, and the resident appears to have left things in a distracted hurry.

The Birdhouse of Arthur J.E. Wren

Creating a space that gives us an animal-eye view of the world seemed to be a theme. Three other pieces were also larger versions of bird or animal habitats. One took a bird feeder and ginormoused it up. Another arranged sticks and stones to make the impression of a nest – but the niftier part of that was the periscopes to provide a bird’s eye view of the surroundings from 12 feet up. The last of this particular flavor of birdhouse resembled what it would be like to walk through tall grasses as a field mouse – recreating this impression with metal rods that resembled a half buried slinky, but the end effect was rather underwhelming.

A Bird’s-Eye View
Prairie Arcade


From a Bird’s Nest

More abstract visions can also be found. “Gaia’s Whispering Hand,” seen below,  melts into the surrounding prairie grasses and flowers, mimicking the structures of nature without losing the human wrought aspects. “Double Canopy” is pretty clunky from the outside, a structure of ropes and wood hanging from a tree. Step inside, though, and you get a kaleidoscope of branches reflecting off four mirror surfaces. “Blue Guard” surrounds a tree with blue rope meant to mimic the guards we put around smaller trees – but why? To suggest the fragility of older trees? To suggest that guarding younger trees is sort of ridiculous? To suggest our weird relationship with nature that we seek to protect it by making it gross? I don’t know.

Gaia’s Whispering Hand
Double Canopy
Blue Guard



Another confusing one is the canopy bridge. This rather nice looking wooden bridge is suspended between trees, meant to remind us of the connection between the branches and interrelations of trees, but still a bit off putting the way it’s just up there and so separate from the trees. This awkward interaction undercuts the intention and goal of the exhibit itself.

There are a few others best experienced for yourself. The exhibit is open a few more weeks and is definitely worth checking out as we hit the last gasps of summer.

In The Tall Grass
Upside Down Tree House


The Underground Fortress: Protecting the Tree Underground
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