Reliquary For The Future

Dyed maple plywood, mirrors, aluminum, steel, LED lights, resin, maple seed, metal leaf
5′ x 26″ x 26″

In 2016, I was one of seven finalists for the Arrow Five Years Out Art Challenge. I made this sculpture that was a complete blast to create. I tried lots of new things and pushed myself, creatively. So. Much. Fun. The following is the statement I wrote about this piece:

The title of this sculpture is: Reliquary for the Future. The word, “relic” refers to something from the past. But in this case, the relic is the future, or more precisely, the promise of a future represented by a maple tree seed. The reliquary that houses this future maple tree is made from maple plywood, which are maple trees from the past. Because the future is inherently built upon the past. While mankind appears to be increasingly functioning within the ether, it is the earth, where we and the trees live, that anchors us all in the present.

Reliquary for the Future blurs the lines between past, present, and future. It could be a futuristic piece from the middle of the 20th century. That time in our culture’s history was marked by a very innovative mindset, with a focus on the future and all the wonders it would hold. It could be a message from the future sent back to remind us to take care of our natural world. Is the relic a core sample of ice or scientifically suspended water that contains the last maple tree seed the world knows? Maybe it’s an animatronic tree that will start walking around any minute. The ambiguity of this artwork is a nod to not having to know everything. I am increasingly disheartened by the rise in hard edged opinions that leave little room for compassion and empathy. Our world would be a kinder place if we could lean into the liminal spaces between the black and white arguments that create nothing but polarity and distance. This piece is about the space in between. It is of the now.

Five years out is not very far away. It’s five slender rings in the trunk of a tree. But if every one of us were to make a small positive change in our daily lives, those five years would accumulate a big impact. See yourself and your environment reflected in the mirrors as you stand in front of this artwork. You are connected to everything you see. And you can be an innovator who makes positive changes in our world.

I designed this sculpture without knowing how to actually execute certain details. I had to make it up as I went along. In that way, this piece embodies innovation. I have also incorporated innovative products that were developed to promote environmental sustainability. Plywood enables the amount of usable wood from a tree to be maximized. Polyacrylic finish is low in air polluting VOCs. The relic’s plant based bio-resin has a 50% reduced carbon footprint over petroleum-based epoxies. LED lights use less electricity and last much longer than incandescent. The yarn used to wrap the electrical cord is bamboo, a plant that is readily renewable.

While many woodworkers hide the striped laminations of plywood endgrain with edge banding, I choose to celebrate its characteristic stripes by cutting it in curves and angles to create interesting striping effects. I add color to the plywood with fiber reactive dyes. These dyes are typically used on textiles. They react on a molecular level with cellulose fibers, creating a very lightfast coloration.

The reliquary is dyed in the greens of the silver maple’s leaves: yellow green for brand new leaves in the spring and when they start turning their autumn gold, and a darker green for their summer color. The legs appear insect-like. When nature is in balance, insects are the keepers of the trees and plants in our environment. The silver maple tree seed of the relic is locally sourced from the tree that shades my woodshop, where I built the Reliquary for the Future.