Early last month, Associate Head of School Ruth Burke answered a question many have been wondering about: “What is that circle in the foundation of the new Lower School?” Although there have been many questions throughout the construction process, she told us this question has been the most persistent. Ruth also mentioned the design behind such a structure comes from one of ESD’s own Upper School faculty: Visual Arts Sculpture and Design teacher Dane Larsen.
This unique tree is designed to “anchor the early childhood neighborhood,” Ruth said. “The tree will not only provide quiet spaces for learning and conversation, but also active possibilities for young children to strengthen their gross motor skills as they play, climb, and explore.”
The idea for a tree sculpture originally came from the architects involved in building the Lower School. Early drafts featured more abstract versions of the tree, with formal benches as places to sit and unstructured “branches” as decoration. After looking at the designs, however, Dane Larsen realized that a real tree provided the perfect structure in its natural form: branches for hanging and developing core strength, low branches and roots for clambering and sitting, and even hollows for crawling.
“One of the great things about art, perhaps the greatest thing, is that it can take the most salient aspects of a specific thing in the real world, and re-present them in a way that is is both more meaningful and more useful within the context of the artwork,” Dane Larsen, Visual Arts teacher, said. “I can think of few things more useful than a mature, living tree, but not in the context of a pre-school learning community on the ground floor of a three-story building. But the sculptural form of a tree in that place is exceptionally useful. It is a place to climb, to clamber, to crawl, to hang, to rest, to read, to cuddle, to hide. It’s not a substitute for actual nature, but hopefully, it will do at least some of the things a real tree might.”
The tree sculpture will be composed of cedar 4x4s that will be cross-laminated, which means that each layer will be laid perpendicular to its adjacent layers. The tree will be approximately nine feet tall and will be topped with leaves attached by rare-earth magnets. These detachable leaves will give the students the opportunity to decorate them either as the seasons change or in other fun patterns. The leaves, plus the tree’s open structure that features crawl spaces and clambering spaces, will continually encourage creativity and gross motor skills development in our Lower School students.
Larsen has completed an initial sketch of the sculpture and plans to begin installation on May 15, beginning what he knows will be a “huge project.” He also plans to involve his AP Sculpture students after they have submitted their final portfolios. With their help, the sculpture will be finished by the time the Lower School opens and promises to be a key feature in our students’ learning experience.
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